Iron Ox lays off 50; amounts to nearly half of • TechCrunch’s staff

There are no sure bets in this – or any – business. Automation, agriculture and climate change are green flags, but no category is immune from mounting economic headwinds on top of the already difficult task of launching a successful startup. While robotics has thus far seen a limited slowdown in investment relative to many other sectors, there’s no such thing as a recession-proof business in startup country.

Bay Area-based Iron Ox certainly had no shortage of supporters. The agtech company has raised north of $100 million, culminating in a $53 million Series C announced in September of last year. But earlier this week, the agtech robotics startup instituted widespread layoffs. In total, 50 jobs were cut this week, a number that equates to nearly half of the company’s “just over 100-strong” workforce.

Chief Legal Officer Myra Pasek tells TechCrunch that the decision was made to “extend [its] cash corridor’. Pasek adds,

We decided to hyper-focus on our core competencies of engineering and technology. As a result, we eliminated many roles that are not core to our renewed focus. However, the layoff was comprehensive and involved positions throughout the organization — that is, it was not limited to certain departments.

Downsizing the Iron Ox team was a painful decision – one we didn’t take lightly. We partner with our board members and lean on our extensive ecosystem across Silicon Valley to help employees find meaningful new work at mission-aligned companies. Iron Ox has always recruited world class talent and I’m sure the people we unfortunately had to cut this week will have plenty of options open to them. As a matter of policy, we will not be providing additional details or comments about specific staff and ask that you respect their privacy at this sensitive time.

It’s a huge blow to a well-funded company at the intersection of several growth areas. Iron Ox’s play has focused on fully automated greenhouses, thanks to robotic arms, Kiva-like plant-moving carts, and other technologies. Using indoor growing techniques and a wealth of data, tar promised wider growing seasons in more diverse climates and the use of fewer resources than standard agriculture, while harnessing the sun in a way that is often completely removed from vertical cultivation.

The exact form the new focus will take remains to be seen, although the company’s website reflects a wide range of different satellite categories, including plant and data science and robotics. Speaking to TechCrunch, Iron Ox explained that it had no intention of ending operations, although the company is apparently open to both seeking additional funding and, perhaps, even a sale.

“[A]t Iron Ox, our attitude is that we are always eager and willing to meet with mission-aligned investors who want to decarbonize the agricultural sector,” says Pasek. “Like other competitive startups, we never stop raising money. We are not talking about streamlining operations – we are more focused than ever on our core competencies in engineering and technology.”

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