Billionaire launches hydroponics startup

Billionaire Oracle Corp. cofounder Larry Ellison this week launched his latest startup, which will focus on automated, hydroponic indoor food production.

Los Angeles-based Sensei plans to build 10 greenhouses, totaling 200,000 square feet, on the Hawaiian island of Lanai. Ellison owns 98 percent of the island.

He unveiled the startup this week, promising that it would focus on building products and experiences to “empower you to grow well.”

Sensei said its first farm is hydroponic, powered by Tesla solar and uses minimal amounts of water. The startup says it’s growing food from “original seeds,” suggesting they’ll eschew genetically-modified plants in favor of heirloom varieties.

On Lanai, Ellison’s goal is to grow high-quality food, helped by software automation, and sell it locally, undercutting the more expensive produce imported daily. He says agriculture is one of the last major industries that has remained largely unchanged by software.

“Lanai is step No. 1,” Ellison told the Star-Advertiser at the time. “We think we can transform agriculture.”

Ellison launched Sensei with David Agus, a bestselling author, University of Southern California professor and serial entrepreneur. He’s also the founding director of USC’s Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine.

Agus treated late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who remained close friends with Ellison up until his death in 2011.

The company lists three open positions on its website, notably a postdoctoral researcher who will be tasked with designing “plant experiments and associated protocol and research methodology.” It adds: “Travel to Hawaii will be required.”

The company’s day-to-day operations are being led by Daniel Gruneberg, who cofounded San Francisco-based events software startup Zozi, which was acquired by Peek last year.

Gruneberg told TechCrunch the company will soon begin selling food to restaurants and stores under the Sensei Farms brand. In his interview last year, Ellison said he expected Sensei to be profitable in its first year.

Click here to read the original article at Silicon Valley Business Journal.

Photo credit: Hartmann Studios via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

03/21/2018 - Silicon Valley Business Journal

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