Red Sea Farms, a salt-water growing specialist, receives $10m investment
Red Sea Farms, a Saudi Arabian AgTech business, received a $10 million venture capital investment today from a group of leading Saudi and UAE investors.
One of the region’s largest AgTech investments to date, the funding is 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, King Abdullah University for Science & Technology (KAUST) and Global Ventures, a UAE venture capital group, many of whom have made their first AgTech investment. The consortium reflects growing investor interest in the Gulf in sustainable farming solutions that can combat pandemics and global supply chain.
Based at KAUST 60 miles north of Jeddah, Red Sea Farms was established in 2018 with a vision to reduce food insecurity, carbon and fresh water use in the global and Gulf food sectors. The company’s unique, end-to-end growing system primarily uses salt water, cutting fresh-water consumption by 85 to 90 percent. Through a patented system of new, more efficient solar and growth monitoring technologies, salt water replaces fresh water typically used to cool greenhouses and irrigate crops.
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.
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.
“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.”
Kevin Cullen, the vice president of innovation and economic development KAUST where Red Sea Farms was developed, said: “KAUST is 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.”
A KAUST spin-out advised by Kirchner Group, Red Sea Farms was originally founded by Tester, a plant scientist, and Lefers, an agricultural engineering expert. The pair recently acquired Iyris Advanced Desert Greenhouses, a maker of smart glass that integrates solar technologies and optical tuning developed by KAUST’s Baran, who became a co-founder.
Red Sea Farms received a $1.9 million investment in 2019 from the KAUST Innovation Fund and Saudi-based Research Products Development Company. A leading graduate research university, KAUST is a major innovator of sustainable agriculture solutions for the Middle East and other water-scarce regions.