Iron Ox is laying off 50, which is almost half of its staff

There are no sure bets in this – or any – business. Automation, agriculture, and climate proclivity are all green flags, but no category is immune from growing economic difficulties on top of the already difficult task of launching a successful startup. Although robotics has thus far seen a limited slowdown in investment compared to many other sectors, there is no such thing as a recession-proof business in startup land.

Bay Area-based Iron Ox certainly had no shortage of supporters. The agtech firm has raised north of $100 million, culminating in a $53 million Series C announced last September. But earlier this week, the robotics agtech startup introduced massive layoffs. A total of 50 jobs were cut this week, a figure that amounts to almost half of the company’s staff of “just over 100”.

Chief legal officer Mira Pasek tells TechCrunch that the decision was made to “extend [its] Pasek adds:

We decided to hyper-focus on our core competency of engineering and technology; as a result, we have eliminated many roles that are not central to our renewed focus. However, the layoff was across the board and involved positions throughout the organization—i.e. it was not limited to certain departments.

Downsizing the Iron Ox team was a painful decision – one we didn’t take lightly. We work with our board members and draw on our extensive Silicon Valley ecosystem to help employees find meaningful new work at mission-driven companies. The Iron Ox has always recruited world-class talent and I’m confident that the people we’ve unfortunately had to cut this week will have plenty of opportunities. As a matter of policy we will not provide further details or comment on specific staff and ask that you respect their privacy at this sensitive time.

This is a huge blow for a well-funded firm at the intersection of several growth areas. Iron Ox’s game focuses on fully automated greenhouses, thanks to robotic arms, Kiva-like carts for moving plants, and other technology. Using indoor growing techniques and a dataset, the presentation promises wider growing seasons in more diverse climates and using fewer resources than standard farming, while harnessing the sun in a way that is often completely removed from vertical agriculture.

It remains to be seen exactly what form the new focus will take, although the company’s site reflects a wide range of different satellite categories, including plant and data science and robotics. Speaking to TechCrunch, Iron Ox explained that it has no plans to go out of business, although the firm appears to be open to both seeking additional funding and perhaps even a sale.

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

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