15 Minutes With… Shely Aronov, CEO and Cofounder of InnerPlant
By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, Global AgInvesting Media (December 20, 2021)
(NOTE: This article first ran in our sister publication, GAI News.)
It may be a novel idea to some, but scientists (and farmers alike) have been listening and talking to plants for decades now, trying to decipher the best way to keep them healthy and growing. And now, a select group of 60 farmers has taken the plunge to join InnerCircle – the brainchild of Innerplant, an ag biotech startup out of Davis, California – and contribute their knowledge in selecting important features for the ideal seed, including germplasm, stress factors, and detection methodology and frequency. This inaugural group will act as special advisors and have early evaluator access to new products, but the InnerCircle is open to any interested farmer.
The mission, led by CEO and cofounder Shely Aronov, is to bring real-world perspective to the development of seed technology. “InnerCircle is about creating a community of innovative farmers who will not only collaborate with us but with each other to design and define the future of seed technology,” Aronov recently told Successful Farming. “They have to believe that, together, we can drive change.”
To this end, InnerPlant, which closed on a $5.6 million combined pre-Seed and Seed funding round in June of this year, has patented seed-based technology that turns plants into living sensors that generate different optical signals that can be seen in daylight using common optical filters on devices ranging from drones and tractors to satellites. This technology piggybacks on the natural signals given off by plants when they’re thirsty, short of nutrients, or under attack by pests or fungi to give farmers early warning of problems before they affect an entire field.
The pioneering farmers who have joined InnerCircle represent more than 300,000 planted acres in the U.S., and are now helping to develop the company’s InnerSoy sentinel plants, and will be the first to trial them once available.
GAI News checked in with Aronov to see how things were moving forward.
1). Your technology aims to make living sensors to help farmers become more profitable and more sustainable. Please explain this further.
InnerPlant Living Plant Sensors give off optical signals when they’re thirsty or sick so farmers can keep plants healthy and maximize yields while reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Currently, huge amounts of chemical pesticides are applied prophylactically, and studies show that as much as 30 percent of those chemicals aren’t needed. However, despite the blanket use of chemicals, farmers still see up to 20 percent of their harvest destroyed by pests and pathogens. That’s a 40 percent inefficiency level that sees farmers buy more chemical inputs than needed yet still lose a significant amount of yield.
InnerPlant’s technology helps farmers eliminate those losses by providing early detection and allowing more responsive, plant-specific interventions that reduce fertilizer and pesticide use, improve soil health, and grow healthy crops.
2). How are the trials progressing and what type of results are you seeing?
We saw amazing success with trials from early field tests with our InnerTomato plants and are continuing to learn a great deal from those trails.
Now, we’re focused on our InnerSoy plants and are excited to see them producing optical signals in the lab. We’re also very encouraged by the participation of the farmers who are involved in our InnerCircle community. The feedback they’re providing about critical issues like germplasm, stress factors, detection methodology, and partners is invaluable.
3). What are the expectations for growth, commercialization, and future funding rounds?
We’re seeing massive growth both in our company - with a new lab facility and employees - and in our InnerCircle community and partnership ecosystem. We expect that growth to continue at a fast pace for the next several quarters as we continue tracking on our 30-month path to deploying a commercialized version of InnerSoy. We also expect to have news to share about a new round of funding in the coming months.
ABOUT SHELY ARONOV
Shely Aronov, who is CEO and cofounder of Innerplant, is an Israeli transplant in the U.S. InnerPlant is her third startup and she has over 15 years of experience working in traditional industries, including construction and food. She received an undergrad degree in industrial engineering from Tel Aviv University and an MBA from Stanford. She is passionate about food and cooking, and her aspiration is to create a lasting company that drives positive change in the world.
- Michelle Pelletier Marshall is contributing editor and author for HighQuest Partners’ GAI News and Oilseed & Grain News, and managing editor for its WIA Today blog. Additionally, she is the company’s PR/Media Manager. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.