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Editorials, The Grid

Sara Menker’s Gro Intelligence: Meteoric Rise, Mounting Challenges, and Ultimate Shutdown

From struggling with payroll funding to losing her position as CEO, here’s how Sara Menker found herself at the centre of an unfortunate narrative, a decade after pioneering agricultural intelligence…

  • Johnson Opeisa
  • 4th June 2024

Ten years ago, Ethiopian-born Sara Menker, driven by her childhood famine experiences, founded Gro Intelligence. This artificial intelligence-powered platform empowers businesses with actionable data across agriculture, climate, and global economics. 


Initially established in Nairobi, Kenya, Gro Intelligence’s reach extended far beyond Africa’s shores. With offices in New York and Singapore, the company has served a wide range of clients, including major food corporations like Unilever and Yum! Brands to financial institutions like BNP Paribas and Wells Fargo.


The agriculture data platform gained public acclaim in 2021 when it was named one of TIME’s most influential companies. This recognition came a year after prominent American business magazine Inc. honoured Sara Menker as one of the top 100 female founders making significant strides globally.


However, 2024 has proven to be the breaking point for this revolutionary force. From struggling with payroll funding to losing substantial control over her company, and eventually witnessing its shutdown, here’s how Sara Menker found herself at the centre of an unfortunate narrative, a decade after pioneering agricultural intelligence with Gro Intelligence. 


Stifled Revenue Generation 


One of the fatal strokes that contributed heavily to Gro Intelligence’s closure was its inability to generate income from its other ventures, according to industry publication AgFunderNews. 


They were chasing deals for projects that resembled bespoke consultancy work as opposed to something that would generate replicable revenue streams. They also had a number of mis-hires and until very recently, they didn’t have a CFO, so I don’t know that they were able to produce reasonable financials on a quarterly basis for investors. Sara should have brought in an operating CEO probably two years ago,” an insider source told AFN


The company’s continued struggle to translate its technological prowess into sustainable commercial success signalled doom, which initially took the shape of a leadership takeover.


Leadership Change: The Beginning of The End 


Early in February, James Cariello succeeded Menker as the CEO of Gro intelligence, following the decision of its board to salvage the financial crisis ravaging the company. 


The controversial leadership restructuring marked a turning point within the firm, as they rallied around to secure a last-minute financial aid that only suspended the inevitable.


Mass Retrenchment


On March 1, AgFunderNews broke the news that Gro Intelligence laid off 60% of its staff, despite securing some 11th-hour funding from an unnamed investor(s). Although the retrenched employees weren’t offered a severance package, AFN says the company covered their back pay, paid time off, plus health insurance through March. 


The remainder of its workforce was retained to oversee the company’s closure, as gathered. 


Legal Battle and SEC Probe 


The sacked employees took legal action against Gro Intelligence, who according to them didn’t give them a prior notice before terminating their means of livelihood. 


The company is also said to be under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), for an alleged fraud.

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