As delegates from more than 190 countries were arriving in Montreal for the start of the U.N. Biodiversity Conference earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called for an end to humanity’s “war on nature.”
“It is only by investing in planet Earth that we can safeguard our future,” he said, kicking off two weeks of negotiations meant to hash out a new set of international goals for nature.
Investing in Mother Nature can take many forms, including backing nature tech, defined as any technology that can be applied to enable, accelerate and scale up nature-based solutions. Examples include innovations that help producers boost crop yields and livestock productivity while minimizing the environmental impact of agriculture; or information technology that enhances the measurement and reporting of climate benefits, or that improves supply chain transparency; or platforms that connect entrepreneurs and Indigenous and local communities to the resources they need to run thriving nature-based enterprises.
The nature tech market stands at roughly $2 billion, and analysts estimate it will grow to $6 billion in less than 10 years, according to a recent report by Nature4Climate, a nature-based solutions advocacy organization, and Capital for Climate, an organization that aims to accelerate capital deployment to climate solutions.
In theory, any technology that enables nature-based solutions should somehow benefit biodiversity, however within the broad range of nature tech, there is a smaller number of startups with business models that specifically support the protection or restoration of biodiverse ecosystems.
Here are seven of them:
Cultivo: Fintech startup Cultivo aims to accelerate investment in nature by building and managing portfolios of high-quality natural capital for investors. Based in the San Francisco Bay area, the startup’s search engine uses sophisticated algorithms to identify stretches of land that could be reclaimed or restored to improve biodiversity, create or store water, sequester carbon or otherwise contribute to improving both the environment and the economic wellbeing of local communities. The company also deploys a wide range of technologies such as sensors, camera traps and DNA sequencing to ensure measurability. Cultivo then works with landowners and local NGOs to create investable projects that derive value from increased land productivity, carbon credits and payment for ecosystem services. From those projects, it creates portfolios for investors. Founded in 2019, Cultivo has raised $2.9 million in venture funding.
DroneSeed: As its name implies, DroneSeed uses drones — equipped with LiDAR (light detection and ranging) and aerial imagery — to reseed forested areas that have been ravaged by wildfires. The Seattle-based startup, which combines aerial seeding and hand planting to increase speed and scale, bills itself as a one-stop shop for regeneration, offering seed, seedlings, reforestation and carbon-credit services all in one place. DroneSeed was founded in 2016 and acquired Silvaseed, one of the largest private forestry seed suppliers in the western U.S., in 2021. DroneSeed’s operations are funded in part by companies purchasing carbon offsets. For example, early this year, Shopify bought enough credits to remove 50,000 metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere. In turn, DroneSeed is replanting 300 acres of forest lost in Oregon’s Beachie Creek fire two years ago. DroneSeed has raised a total of $41.3 million in funding over eight rounds, the most recent being a $36 million Series A round in late 2021.
The nature tech market stands at roughly $2 billion, and analysts estimate it will grow to $6 billion in less than 10 years.
Dryad Networks: Another startup focused on wildfires is Dryad Networks. The Berlin-based venture has developed a large-scale internet of things (IoT) network of sensors to provide early warning of wildfires and tree monitoring for public and private forests. Dryad’s wireless sensor network is based on long-range wide area network (LoRaWAN), an open standard for long-range radio IoT networks. The startup’s distributed architecture enables deployments in areas without existing network coverage. And its solar-powered sensors can detect a fire within 60 minutes, the company says. Founded in 2019, Dryad has so far deployed 12 proof-of-concept installations in the United States, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Germany and South Korea. The German startup is working with California utility PG&E to demonstrate its network in Northern California. Dryad has raised a total of $14.5 million in funding over three rounds, the latest in August.
NatureMetrics: Founded in 2014 by a group of molecular ecologists, NatureMetrics aims to improve the measuring and monitoring of biodiversity via cutting-edge genetic techniques. The U.K. startup offers various products and services to businesses and conservation groups looking to assess their environmental impact. Most recently, NatureMetrics this month launched a new digital dashboard that enables standardized measurements of the health of ecosystems. NatureMetrics has raised a total of $27.4 million in funding over four rounds, the latest being a Series B in May.
re.green: Backed by a group of billionaire Brazilian investors, re.green takes a science and data-driven approach to large-scale tropical forest restoration. The Rio de Janeiro-based startup, which aims to restore at least 2.47 million acres of native, biodiverse ecosystems in the Brazilian Amazon and Atlantic Forest, uses spatial modeling to identify priority restoration areas based on key metrics for financial return and impact. Founded in 2022, re.green plans to monetize restoration through the sale of premium carbon credits, which include co-benefits for communities and biodiversity, as well as the sale of sustainably sourced timber and non-timber products from the regenerated forests. Re.green’s funders include private equity firm Lanx Capital; Gávea Investimentos, an asset management firm controlled by former Brazil central banker Arminio Fraga; and the family office of the billionaire Moreira Salles family, which made its fortune in banking and mining. Initial funding for the company was roughly $74 million.
Terraformation: Founded in 2017 by ex-Reddit CEO Yishan Wong, Terraformation supports forestry organizations in launching, building and scaling biodiverse reforestation projects around the globe. The Hawaii-based startup aims to accelerate native forest restoration by helping these organizations overcome bottlenecks, and its software allows its partners to monitor all aspects of restoration — from the seed bank to the nursery and the planting site. Earlier this year, Terraformation interviewed 230 restoration groups across 63 countries to learn about their biggest challenges. Ninety-five percent of respondents cited funding as their top obstacle, followed by seed and sapling supply, then team training. In response, the startup created the Seed to Carbon Forest Accelerator, which provides support for such projects funded through the sale of carbon and biodiversity credits. Terraformation has raised a total of $40 million in funding over three rounds.
Zero-G Horizons Technologies: Zero-G Horizons of Daytona Beach, Florida, was founded in 2018 to design and build sustainable technologies for space applications and marine ecosystems. The startup develops engineering solutions for both companies and government entities such as NASA, the U.S. Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). As part of an engineering innovation group working on scaling coral restoration, Zero-G donates time to the Coral Restoration Foundation and NOAA, helping set up coral restoration infrastructure and autonomous technologies. Zero-G’s tech is a two-part modular coral mounting system that assists in coral replanting and could help speed up the restoration process significantly. Planting coral manually is time-consuming, with divers able to plant only about 20 specimens over an hour-long dive. Zero-G’s system could speed the process up by almost 15 times, according to the company.