Disruption without interruption. That’s what the team at Seattle-based technology startup iUNU (pronounced “you-knew”) is working to offer the commercial horticulture industry with LUNA, an artificial intelligence (AI) solution that tracks and predicts individual plant health on a large scale.
It’s not about replacing growers; it’s about augmenting their reality by allowing them to be in two places at once, work proactively instead of reactively to solve plant growth issues in real time, and redirect the way they use their time by reducing the number of hours dedicated toward scouting crops and walking through greenhouses to check environmental conditions. Instead, growers can check crop conditions over coffee, create task lists, and assign tasks to staff members before they even walk into work in the morning.
“We want to be the grower’s best friend,” says Adam Greenberg, CEO of iUNU.
The system can even solve inventory issues like locating crops that have been moved unceremoniously, and helping growers sell crops grown on spec to potential buyers.
Officially launched on August 22, LUNA is available now, and already has orders rolling in for 2017 and 2018, Greenberg says.
Field Tested and Trialed to Solve Real Needs
LUNA has been tested for three years in a large-scale ornamentals greenhouse operation in Skagit Valley, WA, and an indoor cannabis growing facility in Seattle, WA. Its development has been based on real-world scenarios that growers face daily, and takes into account the existing infrastructure of each operation to avoid interrupting equipment or growing practices.
Once installed at a grower operation, the system immediately begins recording data including greenhouse temperature, humidity, light levels, and growth rate, which allows growers to track plant progress and health over time, provides historical records of every detail of every plant in the system, and make decisions proactively as the system alerts them to issues that could impact growing progress.
With these abilities, LUNA gives growers all the data they need for proactive management based on precise knowledge, and ideally will help growers maximize product yields and quality, reduce operational costs and waste, and confidently predict ready dates, Greenberg says.
LUNA uses sensors, high-resolution cameras, and 3D imagery to oversee the growing environment. With both broad range views and the ability to zoom in and view individual plants, LUNA detects minute changes in each plant’s development in real time, and immediately communicates the actions required to ensure healthy outcomes.
“All of the solutions we have seen so far focus on improving the grower’s reaction time to problems, he says. “We reject the premise that ‘reactive mode’ is the natural state for growers. With the right technology, thoughtfully applied to give them better computer driven visibility, greenhouse operators can be as precise, proactive, and predictable as modern manufacturing operations.”
Seeking Partnerships, not Just Profits
With roots in horticulture, the company takes the industry and the relationships very seriously. So much so, in fact, that it has created a Customer Success executive position that won’t have any available model from existing companies, because that position doesn’t exist anywhere else. Head of Customer Success Shane Lewis, who has more than 20 years of experience in the horticulture industry, has ingrained this commitment to growers into the corporate culture at iUNU. When the company signs a new contract with a grower, Lewis walks through the office ringing a bell, and everyone in the entire company who is present gathers around Greenberg to witness him signing the contract. The objective of the practice is to get buy-in and individual commitment from every team member from the very beginning, Lewis says.
iUNU declined to discuss specific pricing for the system, because the company wants to offer LUNA as a “system as a service.”
“We don’t want growers to pay for LUNA before they are seeing value from it,” Greenberg says.
And even then, each system is so customized to each unique grower operation that the price will vary from one greenhouse to the next. iUNU is committed to becoming a partner to each growing operation, Greenberg says, and because of the time and infrastructure it provides as part of each installation, like getting Wi-Fi in each greenhouse where LUNA lives, the company has a significant investment in each grower partner, as well.
The company recognizes some of the wider problem solving that LUNA can help with, as well. For instance, increasing input costs despite razor thin profit margins, a reduction in conventional crop protection tools, the pressure from retailers for predictable delivery, quality, and quantity from growers, and the ever-present labor issue.
In a time when the lack of both skilled and unskilled labor is so prevalent and problematic in the horticulture industry, the ability to capture historical data with LUNA will provide growers with a tool to develop “tribal knowledge” in growing practices, to automate the production process in a way that is consistent and repeatable, no matter who comes or goes from the operation, Greenberg says.
The Brains and Money Behind iUNU
The iUNU team is led by Greenberg, 27, who grew up in horticulture in San Francisco as the son of a botanist. A University of Washington graduate, Greenberg has entrepreneurism in his blood. He co-founded a clean water startup in 2013 as a student, and won the UW Business Plan competition in 2013. Greenberg also worked at Amazon from 2011 to 2013.
The executive team includes COO Clayton Wood, who formerly was CEO of Synapse Product Development; CTO Matt King, who worked on greenhouse AI in a previous startup; Head of Customer Success Shane Lewis, who worked with Carl Loeb to bring Etera to the industry, as well as at Northwest Horticulture and Solstice Group; and Engineering Leader Lucas Adamski, a veteran of companies including Mozilla, Adobe, and Macromedia.
The excitement of the entire team is palpable, and the startup has a roster of some pretty big name investors backing its vision, including NFL great Joe Montana and partners, Mike Miller and Michael Ma with Liquid 2 Ventures; Alexis Ohanian of Initialized Capital, the co-founder of Reddit; Seattle’s 2nd Avenue Partners, Fuel Capital, Neal Pomroy, and others. iUNU announced on August 22 that it has secured $6 million in capital from these investors to move forward.
So why do big-name investors like Joe Montana care about greenhouses? Greenberg says it’s because they care about backing companies that create solutions to real-world problems. Liquid 2 Ventures echoed this in an official statement.
“When we saw how differentiated LUNA is from the other solutions in this space, we knew we had to invest in iUNU,” said the investor. “LUNA provides a truly comprehensive understanding of each plant’s health and growth, focused on the plant’s actual performance, not just the environment around it. Closing the control loop has the potential to change the equation of the economics of commercial-scale, indoor horticulture.”
Ohanian said in a statement that the ingenuity iUNU brings to horticulture with LUNA will be a gamechanger.
“This solution turns greenhouses into data-driven manufacturing plants. It is both a seriously practical and crucial commercial application of AI to a fundamental industry.”