Spotlight on Inari Agriculture

Welcome to a new feature on The Line, the Purdue Research Foundation blog. In the Spotlight On series, we will provide an introduction of people and companies located in the Purdue Research Park network, are Purdue Foundry clients, or license or option Purdue University intellectual property through the Office of Technology Commercialization.

Today, we focus on Inari Agriculture, a new breeding technology company designing nature-positive seeds for a more sustainable food system. Flagship Pioneering founded the company in 2016.

Who is Inari?

Inari Agriculture CEO Ponsi Trivisvavet inspecting plants in the company’s greenhouse. (Photo provided by Inari Agriculture)

Inari is the SEEDesign™ company, combining artificial intelligence-powered predictive design and multiplex gene editing to unlock the full potential of seed. Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the company opened its second U.S. location in November 2018 at the Purdue Research Park of West Lafayette, where it has offices, greenhouse space and a farm. It also has operations in Ghent, Belgium.

CEO Ponsi Trivisvavet leads the company and says it is doing very well.

“In our most recent fundraise, announced May 2021, Inari secured $208 million — the largest fundraise in a record year for the Indiana life sciences sector,” she said. “We’re also growing fast, with an employee base of more than 230 and counting.”

Inari’s mission

Inari is pursuing a bold set of goals to benefit farmers, society and the planet — but, Trivisvavet said, there isn’t much time.

“Agriculture and the global food system are at a tipping point, and we only have one lifetime — this lifetime — to secure a sustainable future,” she said.

Inari’s aim is to design radically higher-yielding seed that requires significantly fewer natural resources. To maximize its nature-positive impact, the company’s initial focus is on large-scale crops such as corn and soybeans, which account for more than 300 million acres across North America and South America.

“Our targets include a 10–20% increase in yield — which is well beyond the current industry standard of roughly 1% annual yield increases — and 40% reductions in water and nitrogen use,” Trivisvavet said. “We also recently announced a partnership with leading Australian cereals breeder InterGrain to target a 10–15% yield increase in wheat.

“This is truly groundbreaking, innovative work that would not have been possible 20 or even 10 years ago. But because of the confluence of advances in gene editing, genomics and artificial intelligence, it is now.”

Helping farmers adapt

Christopher Bagley, left, director of transformation optimization, briefs Inari CEO Ponsi Trivisvavet in one of the company’s West Lafayette, Indiana laboratories. (Photo provided by Inari Agriculture)

Trivisvavet complimented farmers for their entrepreneurial mindset and commitment to conservation, noting that few industries are as dependent on nature as agriculture.

“Farmers know better than anyone that it isn’t hard to imagine a future where their access to land and natural resources will be much more limited than it is today,” Trivisvavet said. “Unfortunately, with the tools they have historically had access to, there is only so much they have personally been able to do to battle climate change.

“That’s changing, from a wave of agriculture startups producing new, tangible solutions to global initiatives empowering entrepreneurs to scale innovations for farms big and small. Farmers will be able to adapt better than ever so they can continue nourishing people and preserving our planet.”

Connections with Purdue and PRF

It has been not quite four years since Inari opened its doors in the Purdue Research Park of West Lafayette. Trivisvavet said it didn’t take long for the company to experience several clear benefits to operating here.

“It starts with the people,” she said. “Considering how important strong diversity of thought is to running an innovation-forward organization and that more than half of our employees are now based in West Lafayette, it is hard to overstate the value of our proximity to the talent pool generated at Purdue University. We already employ nearly two dozen Purdue alumni, and we only expect the number to increase as our company grows.”

Trivisvavet also said Purdue Research Foundation’s commitment and support has been unwavering since Inari opened its doors.

“When we first came to West Lafayette, the number of plants we were editing was in the hundreds; today, it’s in the hundreds of thousands. We are also close to completing a 17,500-square-foot expansion of our greenhouse that will triple our growing space. This progress would not be possible without the support of the PRF,” she said.

“Add to that the ongoing discussions with the Purdue University College of Agriculture on state-of-the-art greenhouse phenotype automation, the opportunity to witness up close and draw inspiration from the Data Mine learning community, and being able to work with AgriNovus Indiana — a relationship started through a mutual PRF connection — and it is clear Inari is in the right place at the right time.”

Thank you Ponsi Trivisvavet for sharing the Inari Agriculture story with us!

Katherine Effinger, lab operations manager, prepares aliquots of liquid media in Inari’s West Lafayette, Indiana media lab. (Photo provided by Inari Agriculture)