There are no certainties in this – or any – venture. Automation, agriculture and climate change are green flags, but no category is immune from economic headwinds on top of the already difficult task of launching a successful startup. While robotics has seen a limited slowdown in investment so far compared to many other sectors, there is no such thing as a recession-proof business in startup land.
Bay Area-based Iron Ox certainly has had no shortage of supporters. The agtech company has raised north of $100 million, culminating in a $53 million Series C announced last September. But earlier this week, the robotic agtech startup caused widespread layoffs. All told, 50 jobs were cut this week, a figure that represents nearly half of the company’s workforce, “just over 100 people”.
Chief Legal Officer, Myra Pasek, tells londonbusinessblog.com decision has been made to “extend” [its] money job.” Pasek adds,
We have decided to focus on our core competence of engineering and technology; as a result, we have eliminated many roles that are not at the heart of our renewed focus. However, the layoff was comprehensive and encompassed functions throughout the organization, ie not limited to just certain departments.
Reducing the Iron Ox team was a painful decision – one we didn’t take lightly. We partner with our board members and draw on our extensive Silicon Valley ecosystem to help employees find meaningful new work at mission-oriented companies. Iron Ox has always hired world-class talent, and I am confident that the individuals we sadly had to cut this week will have many options before them. As a matter of policy, we are not going to provide additional details or comment on specific personnel, and we ask that you respect their privacy at this sensitive time.
It’s a huge blow to a well-funded company at the intersection of several growth areas. Iron Ox’s game focused on fully automated greenhouses, courtesy of robotic arms, Kiva-style plant-moving carts, and other technologies. Using indoor growing techniques and a wealth of data, the field promised wider growing seasons in more diverse climates and the use of fewer resources than standard farming, while still harnessing the sun in a way often completely unlike vertical farming.
Exactly what form the new focus will take remains to be seen, though the company’s site reflects a wide variety of different satellite categories, including plant and data science and robotics. Speaking to londonbusinessblog.com, Iron Ox explained that it has no intention of winding down operations, though the company is apparently open to both additional financing and perhaps even a sale.
“[A]t Iron Ox, our attitude is that we are always willing and eager to meet mission-oriented investors looking to decarbonise the agricultural sector,” says Pasek. “Like other competing startups, we never stop fundraising. We’re not talking about winding down operations — we’re more focused than ever on our core competencies in engineering and technology.”