Red Sea Farms; a startup from KAUST, received a $10mn venture capital investment today from a group of leading Saudi and UAE investors.
The investment in Red Sea Farms is one of the region's largest agritech investments to date. The consortium reflects growing investor interest in the Gulf in sustainable farming solutions; that can combat pandemics and global supply chain disruptions.
The funding is also being led by a group of Saudi and UAE investors including the Aramco entrepreneurship arm Wa'ed, the non-profit foundation Future Investment Initiative Institute, KAUST and Global Ventures, a UAE venture capital group. The funding is one of the first agritech investments for many of the participants.
Red Sea Farms was established in 2018 with a vision to reduce food insecurity, carbon and freshwater use in the global and Gulf food sectors. The company's unique, end-to-end growing system primarily uses saltwater, cutting fresh-water consumption by 85 to 90 percent. Through a patented system of new, more efficient solar and growth monitoring technologies, saltwater replaces freshwater typically used to cool greenhouses as well as irrigate crops.
Red Sea Farms' growing systems can be quickly and easily scaled in climates such as the Middle East; where conventional farming methods are not possible or cost-effective. The company is initially using its technology to grow and sell tomatoes in Saudi Arabia; but ultimately plans to sell entire turn-key growing systems to buyers around the world.
Red Sea Farms plans to use the funding to build and retrofit more than six hectares of commercial farming operations in central and western Saudi Arabia. The company currently operates a salt-water pilot greenhouse at the KAUST Research & Technology Park.
"We are proud to have designed, developed and delivered one of the world's most sustainable agricultural systems from our base in Saudi Arabia," said Ryan Lefers, Red Sea's chief executive, who along with professors Mark Tester, Chief Scientist and Derya Baran, Chief Engineer, co-founded Red Sea Farms. "The investment from our new partners will help us improve global food security while reducing the carbon and fresh-water footprint."
Wassim Basrawi, the managing director of Aramco venture Wa'ed, said: "The Red Sea Farms investment reflects our decade-long commitment to the Saudi start-up sector, where Wa'ed has deployed more than $100mn in venture capital investments and loans to more than 100 entrepreneurs. Red Sea Farms is a good example of a game-changing start-up whose innovations not only can transform markets but improve life for everyone in the Kingdom."
The investment is FII Institute's first in the AgTech sector. Richard Attias, the FII Institute Chief Executive Officer, said; "Our investment in Red Sea Farms is an expression of FII-Institute's mission to support initiatives and projects; which will also have a positive impact on humanity. Our trilogy strategy 'Think-Xchange-Act' empowers us to play a transformative role in the new impact economy. We are happy to partner with the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology; and leading investors to bring this revolutionary technology to market."
Kevin Cullen, the vice president of innovation and economic development KAUST; where Red Sea Farms was developed, said: "KAUST is also powering an emerging deep-tech start-up ecosystem in Saudi Arabia; and Red Sea Farms is helping to drive this revolution. The start-up is the product of many years of research in KAUST labs; now commercialized and ready to change the face of agriculture in the Middle East and other water-scarce regions."