Ticker prices and stock symbols surrounded Sara Menker when she worked as a commodities trader in the 2000s. But she noticed one field was lacking in data: agriculture. "Nearly every part of our lives depends on this multitrillion-dollar industry," she says, "and it didn't have a data platform."
Menker built one. Gro Intelligence pulls global agricultural data from thousands of data sets, and then uses artificial intelligence to create forecasts for supply, demand, and pricing. Wondering how much pork will cost in China next year? Gro crunches tens of thousands of data points--weather, international trade volume, projected soybean and corn yields (i.e., pig food) -- to produce an answer that makes sense to both pig farmers and hedge fund managers. Using publicly available satellite images from space agencies instead of private companies helps Gro offer pricing that starts at $1,000 a year.
After quitting her Wall Street job in 2012, Menker, who was born in Ethiopia, spent two years studying the industry. She initially self-funded her operation, and then persuaded some of her former bosses to invest and started building a team in Nairobi, where the company still maintains an office in addition to its New York City headquarters.
Gro uses agricultural data from all over the world. Many of its processes are now automated, but initially the company needed employees who could translate data from different local languages. Menker credits her staff's wide-ranging backgrounds -- employees speak more than 25 languages -- with helping the company get to this point. "An A.I. company has to resemble the world it's attempting to model," she says. "We recruited and built our team with extreme intention. Diversity was in our DNA from day one." Gro's 85-person staff includes agronomists, crop scientists, mathematicians, and designers. "Creating a culture that allows for collaboration between people of extremely different backgrounds allows you to accomplish things that can otherwise seem impossible," says Menker.
Gro has raised $40 million, which Menker says will help strengthen its data-crunching capabilities -- and maybe solve some of the world's larger problems. "If we're going to fix issues around food security or access or malnutrition or climate change," she says, "we have to understand our food and agriculture systems inside and out. We've built a company that will help us do just that."