Israeli agtech startup Ilsar announced the closure of a $5 million funding round this week to market rare truffles cultivated in the Golan Heights. The financing was led by private equity fund AP Partners, which focuses on small- and medium-sized Israeli companies with international growth opportunities.
Ilsar was founded in 2011 and says that, over the past decade, it developed a sophisticated process for cultivating black winter truffles, among the rarest and most expensive edible fungi in the world. Fresh black winter truffles are indeed a unique luxury ingredient and can sell for over $100 per ounce (28.45g), and sometimes more, depending on where they are sourced (usually France or Italy).
Ilsar says it has been cultivating Black Perigord Winter Truffles (Tuber Melanosporum) on an agricultural scale in the Golan Heights beginning with the host plant seeds, which are germinated and grown through a biological procedure to develop their initial root system. Then, the truffles are grown in controlled greenhouse conditions for two years, and the seedlings are planted on land in the Golan Heights, in cooperation with local farmers.
The company says it is now looking to commercialize them on international markets to meet a growing gap between supply and demand, exacerbated by urbanization and deforestation processes as well as climate change. Truffles are notoriously difficult to cultivate and harvest, requiring the right weather conditions, soil chemistry, and a lot of patience. Successfully harvesting truffles can take about a decade.
Ilsar says its partnerships with active plantations in the Golan Heights cover 117.5 acres. By the end 2021, the company’s plantations are expected to extend over 167.5 acres and it plans to play a major role in the international truffles market by planting 2,500 acres over the next 10-12 years.
“This latest investment round will allow the company to continue to realize its vision and to found advanced truffles agriculture, rich in know-how in partnership with local farmers,” said Ilsar co-founder and CEO Nimrod Tabenkin. The company is also led by Yoel Givol, a US-based businessman and a former member of Kibbutz Ein Zivan in the northern Golan Heights, and Tal Monchase, a farmer who serves as Ilsar’s chief agronomist.
“The company will continue to invest in applied research and breakthrough, innovative agricultural technologies with the aim of becoming a major [player] in the world truffles market throughout the entire value chain,” added Tabenkin.
AP Partners’ Shmuel Vlodinger said the fund was “impressed by the company’s breakthrough and success in cultivating the rare truffles on an agricultural scale.”
“These truffles have gained major demand with an exponential rate of growth, while greening the Golan Heights and at the same time continuing advanced R&D into other truffle cultures. But above everything else, we were impressed by the CEO Nimrod Tabenkin and the company’s founders and their ability to grow the company and realize the ambitious vision, while harnessing the kibbutzim and moshavim in the region to change the face of the Golan Heights and the industry, which is there,” he said.