One of the world’s biggest technology investors is going shopping and looking at agriculture for the next big thing.
“We’ve recently done a few investments in agtech - agriculture technology - which is one area we’re really excited about because it’s basically a huge part of society where technology has historically not played such a big role,” Bob van Dijk, chief executive officer of Naspers and the company's Amsterdam-listed Prosus, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “So there’s actually a lot of opportunity out there and technology applications in a relatively new sector.”
Prosus, the international internet assets arm of Naspers, is one of the largest technology investors in the world with investments spanning payments and fintech, classifieds, food delivery, social and internet platforms, and travel. Among its most prominent investments is Tencent, the WeChat and gaming operator that is on the brink of becoming the first Chinese company to surpass $1 trillion in market value. Other notable holdings include China’s Trip.com Group, Russia’s Mail.ru, and Berlin-based DeliveryHero, which operates the biggest global food delivery network outside China.
Agtech start-ups have raised more than $5 billion in venture capital last year, a 35% increase over the 2019, according to an analysis of Crunchbase data. The flow of money into the industry accelerated with Covid-19, which shone a spotlight on the global food supply chain and its vulnerabilities.
Earlier this month, Prosus announced it led a Series C funding round of $30 million in DeHaat, an Indian agritech company that uses artificial intelligence to help farmers source raw materials, find advisory and credit services and sell their crops.
Among the largest investments last year in agtech was a $250 million round for Farmers Business Network, which runs a data and analytics platform that helps farmers with pricing to marketing. Pivot Bio, a provider of microbial nitrogen technology that raises crop yields, raised $100 million in a round of funding led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Temasek.
Celebrities have also gotten in on the action, with Opray Winfrey and Katy Perry investing in Apeel Sciences, which has developed a coating to extend the shelf life of produce like avocados.
“The year’s off to a very, very active start…there’ll definitely be more consolidation,” said Bob van Dijk. “We’re definitely looking very actively at new opportunities.”