Inside Larry Ellison’s futuristic indoor farming company, whose massive, Tesla solar-powered Hawaii greenhouses are the first step toward an ambitious goal of feeding the world

Man reaching for leaves inside Sensei greenhouse
An employee at Sensei’s farm in Lanai, Hawaii.

  • Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison created an indoor farming company called Sensei Ag in 2018.
  • The goal of Sensei Ag is to feed the world by making produce more nutrient-rich and accessible.
  • Sensei Ag’s Tesla solar-powered greenhouses grow produce that’s distributed throughout Hawaii.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Picture this: You’re driving along the highway on the island of Lanai, Hawaii’s smallest inhabited island. All of a sudden, the verdant landscape gives way to futuristic greenhouses powered by an array of solar panels.

This is the first outpost of Larry Ellison’s 3-year-old indoor farming company, Sensei Ag.

Sensei Ag is an agriculture-tech firm bent on changing the way food is grown worldwide. The company’s mission is to feed the world by making produce more nutrient-rich and accessible and lowering the barrier to entry for vertical or greenhouse farming.

And while the company is young, it has the backing of Ellison, the tech titan whose net worth hovers around $95 billion and whose aggressive bet on the future of database-management turned Oracle into a $200 billion behemoth.

Read more: Leaked documents show just how much Oracle’s cloud unit is modeling itself after Amazon by telling employees ‘don’t be a jerk’ and ‘put customers first’

Ellison’s latest venture seems to have an equally ambitious outlook on the future.

“In the next three-to-five years, our goal is to feed the top three quintiles of the world with our products and employ the bottom two,” Sensei Ag CEO Sonia Lo told Insider. “And then in the next eight-to-10 years, it is to feed everybody.”

Here’s how Sensei Ag is working to making indoor farming mainstream and use its Hawaiian homebase as a “lab for the world.”

Sensei Ag is the brainchild of Ellison and Dr. David Agus, a cancer physician and professor at the University of Southern California.

Sensei 8
Larry Ellison, left, and Dr. David Agus.

Ellison is the cofounder of cloud-computing firm Oracle. The 76-year-old billionaire, who announced last year that he moved to Lanai full time during the pandemic, is known for being something of an international playboy, as well as an outspoken advocate for health and wellness. 

Ellison and late Apple CEO Steve Jobs were close friends for 25 years, and often spent time hiking together near their neighboring homes in Woodside, California, prior to Jobs’ death from pancreatic cancer in 2011. Ellison gave a eulogy at Jobs funeral.

Agus, 57, is a prominent physician who treats patients with advanced forms of cancer and leads the USC cancer institute funded by Ellison. 

Agus and Ellison became close friends while Agus was treating Jobs’ cancer, according to Forbes.

Ellison and Agus founded Sensei in 2018, and recently split the company in two: A data-driven wellness spa called Sensei Retreats, and Sensei Ag.

Sensei Lanai Hawaii
A person receiving a massage at Sensei Retreats in Hawaii.

Located at a Four Seasons resort known as Sensei Lanai, Sensei Retreats offers guests a customizable experience: They can set physical and mental goals for their stay, and the spa will track their sleep, nutrition, and blood flow.

Sensei’s overarching goal is to help people live longer and healthier lives by improving sleep, movement, and nutrition, the company says. 

Sensei Ag’s primary focus is to bring healthy, affordable food to the masses by making indoor farming more accessible and more sustainable.

Sensei 2
Inside a Sensei Ag greenhouse on Lanai.

“Larry’s perspective and David’s perspective is that indoor growing is revolutionary, and that we can move the needle on feeding people globally and diminishing water use and land use,” Lo said. 

This goal will come with significant costs and an ambitious technology rollout, she said, but cited the environmental benefits of moving farming indoors, particularly when it comes to water use: Indoor farming is shown to use significantly less water than outdoor farming. Greenhouses use roughly 10% the amount of water used in an open field, and vertical farms use even less — closer to 3%, Lo said.

In addition to focusing on sustainability, Sensei employs a team of plant scientists who are working on maximizing the nutrients in the crops Sensei grows. 

 

What makes Sensei Ag different from other indoor farming companies, Lo said, is that it works as a franchise model.

Sensei 7
An exterior view of Sensei’s greenhouses.

For the average farmer, shifting to indoor production can be prohibitively expensive, which is what’s held back the indoor farming movement up to this point, Lo said. 

Farmers who opt for traditional outdoor growing have “a whole infrastructure that supports you,” Lo said. That includes the ability to lease a tractor, lease land, and borrow other growers’ cold storage and packing infrastructure.

“Whereas if you want to be an indoor grower, you have to come up with several hundred thousand dollars, at a minimum, if not several tens of millions,” Lo said. 

What Sensei Ag offers is the “whole franchise package.” That includes helping a farmer identify the right indoor growing form factor for their farm, whether that’s a glass greenhouse or an indoor farm; setting up a “cold chain,” or refrigerated supply chain; and locking in transportation and logistics.

There’s also a data component to what Sensei Ag is offering to farmers. Sensei tracks factors like crop selection and what type of light a grower users, then feed that information into a dataset to help inform future Sensei partners. 

The produce grown by Sensei’s partners can carry the Sensei Farms branding, and Sensei will help with distribution.

Sensei 4
Crops growing inside a Lanai greenhouse.

Lo said that a benefit to being one of Sensei’s franchisees is the ability to distribute your produce at major US retailers. 

“If you go to Walmart and you say, ‘I have a 200,000-square-foot greenhouse and I want to deal directly with you,’ Walmart will say, ‘Oh gosh, you know, we really can’t manage you as a vendor that’s that small,'” Lo said. 

“Whereas if you go to Walmart and you say, ‘We’re Sensei, and we have 200 farms across the US,’ that’s a risk that Walmart is willing to take,” she said. 

Not all types of crops are suited to growing indoors, and what’s typically grown today meets a three-pronged threshold: good nutrition, reliability, and affordability.

Sensei 3
Tomatoes growing inside one of the greenhouses on Lanai.

Lo pointed to tomatoes as a good example of food that is almost entirely grown indoors, because growers can offer good value to customers.

“That’s taken 15 years and it’s taken a lot of technology, a lot of reliability of growing, a lot of just processes and procedures that have come into play,” Lo said. 

Lo predicted that the next crops to move primarily indoors will be leafy greens and strawberries. Strawberries, in particular, are becoming harder to grow outdoors due to a change in pesticide laws

But there are downsides to indoor growing, particularly when it comes to energy use.

Sensei 5
Tesla solar panels at Sensei’s Lanai greenhouses.

Indoor farms are often powered by coal, so they still have a carbon footprint.

And while there are vertical farms that are powered by solar energy, they require as many as 20 acres of solar panels, which means you’re not really using less land. 

At Sensei’s farm on Lanai, there are six greenhouses spanning 120,000 square feet that are capable of producing over a million pounds of food per year, according to Forbes.

The greenhouses have sensors and cameras that track data about the farms, including water usage and airflow, and are powered by Tesla solar panels. (Ellison sits on Tesla’s board.) 

Lo called Sensei’s farm on Lanai its “lab for the world.”

Sensei 9
Sensei’s farm on Lanai.

“Islands are incredibly tough,” she said, citing water, land, and labor constraints that make farming challenging on Lanai. But she said that the company has already met its initial goal of feeding the Hawaiian islands.

Sensei had its first harvest in August 2020, and by December, its produce was sold on every Hawaiian island. The food is packed on Lanai, then taken by barge to central Honolulu — from there, its distributed to the other islands, Lo said. 

Food that’s grown at Sensei Farms is distributed at the Nobu restaurant located inside the Sensei resort nearby, with the aim of measuring the effect the food has on people who visit the Sensei Wellness program.

“Now our goal is to not just make food an export of Lanai, but also to take the learnings from Lanai — the business processes, the franchising model on the island, the water conservation, the water reuse — and really make it an intellectual product and then export that intellectual product,” she said.

She added: “If it works on an island in the middle of the Pacific, it will work anywhere.” 

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Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison is tearing down his new $80 million Palm Beach mansion and says he has no plans to leave Hawaii

Larry Ellison
Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison.

  • Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison plans to tear down his $80 million Palm Beach mansion.
  • He told employees that he became a resident of Hawaii last year and has no plans to move back.
  • Ellison owns 98% of the island of Lanai, Hawaii’s smallest inhabited island.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Larry Ellison is staying in Hawaii full time – and knocking down the $80 million Palm Beach mansion he just bought.

The Oracle billionaire sent an email to employees this week explaining his future plans after reports surfaced that he had purchased a 15,000-square-foot home in South Florida. Ellison confirmed that he had purchased the mansion, but that he’s “tearing the house down and not moving to Florida,” according to Recode’s Theodore Schleifer.

“Last year I moved from California to the island of Lana’i and became a resident of the State of Hawaii,” Ellison wrote. “I love it here and have no plans to move back to Florida, Texas, back to California … or anywhere else.”

Ellison’s home in Palm Beach sits on 7.35 acres, making it the third-largest oceanfront parcel of land in Palm Beach County, according to a real estate listing. The Tuscan-style home, which previously belonged to hedge-fund manager Gabe Hoffman, includes seven bedrooms, 11 bathrooms and three half-bathrooms, a VIP guest suite, a home theater, a wine room, a chef’s kitchen, a swimming pool, and a tennis court.

The home was built in 1998, and it’s unclear why Ellison would want to knock it down. Ellison already has an extensive real estate portfolio that includes multimillion-dollar homes in San Francisco, Malibu, Lake Tahoe, Rhode Island, and Japan.

Read more: Peek into Palm Beach’s wild, sometimes maskless pandemic party scene as wealthy residents carry on ‘living their lives’

But it seems the tech mogul, who’s worth $91.5 billion, has no plans to live in the mansion, or anywhere else in the contiguous United States.

Ellison revealed last year that he had moved to Lanai, Hawaii, amid the coronavirus pandemic. He plans to use “the power of Zoom to work” from the island, he wrote in an email to Oracle employees at the time, who had been asking about Ellison’s plans in the wake of Oracle moving its headquarters to Austin, Texas.

Ellison purchased nearly 98% of the island of Lanai in 2012 for a reported $300 million – his purchase included 87,000 of the island’s 90,000 acres of land. Lanai, which is home to about 3,200 residents, is the smallest inhabited island in Hawaii and is home to serene beaches, rugged terrain, high-end resorts, as well as Ellison’s sustainability ambitions, which he’s executing through a development company called Pulama Lanai.

He also launched a wellness company called Sensei in 2018, which is working on three main issues: global food supply, nutrition, and sustainability. Sensei has since launched two 20,000-square-foot hydroponic greenhouses on the island, known as Sensei Farms, and a luxury spa called Sensei Retreat that costs $3,000 a night.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison has moved to Lanai, the Hawaiian island he’s spent half a billion dollars developing. Here’s how Ellison bought 98% of the island and turned it into a sustainability experiment.

Larry Ellison Lanai
The island of Lanai from above.

  • Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison bought 98% of Lanai in 2012 for an estimated $300 million.
  • Ellison is hoping to turn Lanai into a wellness utopia through his company, Sensei.
  • Now, Ellison lives in Lanai full-time and plans to use “the power of Zoom” to work from the island.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison is making the Pineapple Island his full-time home.

Ellison revealed last year that he has moved to Lanai, Hawaii, amid the coronavirus pandemic. He plans to use “the power of Zoom to work” from the island, he wrote in an email to Oracle employees, who had been asking about Ellison’s plans in the wake of Oracle moving its headquarters to Austin, Texas.

Ellison owns almost the entirety of Lanai: He purchased nearly 98% of the island in 2012 for a reported $300 million – his purchase included 87,000 of the island’s 90,000 acres of land.

Read more: Oracle’s TikTok victory highlights Larry Ellison’s reputation as a ‘sharp-elbows entrepreneur’ who experts say has benefited from his embrace of Trump: ‘Larry’s politics are good business’

Lanai, which is home to about 3,200 residents, is the smallest inhabited island in Hawaii and is home to serene beaches, rugged terrain, high-end resorts, and Ellison’s sustainability ambitions, which he’s executing through a development company called Pulama Lanai.

Here’s how Lanai came to be owned by Ellison and what he’s planning for the island.

In June 2012, Ellison bought Lanai for an estimated $300 million. Prior to Ellison’s purchase, the island was owned by billionaire Dole chairman David Murdock, who had reportedly been asking for $1 billion for the island.

Lanai Hawaii

Source: Pacific Business News, Forbes

Murdock became the owner of Lanai in 1985 after taking over Dole’s parent company, Castle & Cooke. Prior to Murdock’s ownership, the island was controlled by “Pineapple King” James Dole.

Lanai Hawaii
Pineapple fields on Lanai.

Source: Forbes

The 141-square-mile island, which is eight miles off the coast of Maui, has zero traffic lights and few paved roads, according to Forbes. Compared with other Hawaiian islands, Lanai is secluded – but Ellison has plans to change that: He wants to turn Lanai into a tourist destination.

Lanai Hawaii
Lanai from space.

Source: Forbes, The New York Times

Lanai already boasts two Four Seasons-run hotels. The penthouse suite at the Four Seasons Hotel Lanai costs $21,000 per night, making it the most expensive suite in Hawaii.

A post shared by Four Seasons Resorts Lānaʻi (@fslanai)

Source: Pacific Business News

The island was also home to two golf courses when Ellison bought it, including Manele Golf Course. In 1994, prior to Ellison’s ownership of the island, Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates got married at the 17th hole of the course.

Manele Golf Course 17th hole Lanai
The 17th hole of the Challenge course at the Manele Golf Course in Lanai circa 1985.

Source: CNBC

The other course, Koele, was designed by golfer Greg Norman. The course has since been shut down, and an adventure park and zipline have been installed in its place.

Lanai Hawaii
The cart path on the golf course at Lanai Manele Bay Resort.

Source: Pacific Business Journal, Lanai Adventure Park

In 2014, Ellison bought Island Air, a budget airline that ferries passengers from Oahu to Maui and Lanai. But two years later, after the airline lost $21.78 million and had to lay off roughly 20% of its workforce, Ellison sold a controlling interest in the airline.

Oahu Hawaii airplane
The view of the windward side of Oahu, Hawaii, from aboard a Hawaiian Airlines flight.

Source: Business Insider

Ellison’s Lanai purchase included an animal-rescue center. Because there are no natural predators to cats on Lanai, the feral-cat population at the shelter has ballooned to over 400 cats (which Ellison technically owns). In recent years, it’s become a travel destination in itself.

Cat shelter
An animal-rescue center, though not the one on Lanai.

Source: Hawaii Magazine, The New York Times

Ellison’s ambitions extend beyond tourism, however: he plans to create “the first economically viable, 100 percent green community,” according to The New York Times.

larry ellison

Source: The New York Times

In 2018, Ellison launched a wellness company called Sensei, which is working on three main issues: global food supply, nutrition, and sustainability. Sensei’s goal is to use data to help people lead healthier and longer lives.

hydroponic farming

Source: Business Insider, Business Insider

Sensei built two 20,000-square-foot hydroponic greenhouses, known as Sensei Farms. The greenhouses have sensors and cameras that track data about the farms, including water usage and airflow. According to Forbes, they’re powered by 1,600 Tesla solar panels (Ellison sits on Tesla’s board).

Tesla solar panels Puerto Rico
Tesla solar panels in Puerto Rico.

Source: Forbes

Sensei also built a luxury spa called Sensei Retreat that costs $3,000 a night. Guests set physical and mental goals for their stay and the spa tracks their sleep, nutrition, and blood flow. The heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers grown at Sensei Farms are used at the spa’s in-house Nobu restaurant, according to Forbes.

Spa facial
A person receiving a facial, though not at the Sensei Retreat.

Source: Forbes

Ellison reportedly wants to purchase the island’s power plant and electric grid from Hawaiian Electric Co. to transition the island away from fossil fuels toward 100% renewable energy.

Hawaii solar power
Hawaii is a national leader in rooftop solar power, and the state has an ambitious goal of using only renewable energy by 2045.

Source: Fox Business

Ellison’s goal is for Lanai to serve as a prototype for a “health utopia,” according to Forbes. Tesla CEO and Ellison’s close friend Elon Musk told Forbes that Lanai is like “a microcosm for the world.”

Larry Ellison Elon Musk

Source: Forbes

When the coronavirus pandemic struck Lanai last year, Ellison reduced or eliminated rent altogether for businesses on the island and paid the full wages and benefits for employees who worked for him.

Manele Bay Resort Lanai Hawaii
Tiki torches at the Manele Bay Resort in Lanai.

Source: Business Insider

All told, Ellison has spent roughly half a billion dollars on the island, beyond his initial purchase (in 2014, he spent $41 million on property alone). But Ellison’s wealth has only continued to rise during the pandemic: These days, he’s worth an estimated $81.6 billion.

Larry Ellison

Source: Pacific Business News, Forbes, Bloomberg

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See inside Larry Ellison’s Hawaiian island wellness retreat, a $1,200-per-night luxury spa where guests track their health data and learn how to live longer lives

Sensei Lanai Hawaii
Sensei Retreats in Lanai, Hawaii.

  • Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison owns an ultra-luxury wellness retreat in Lanai, Hawaii.
  • Called Sensei Retreat, the spa uses data to track and improve guests’ nutrition, sleep, and fitness.
  • The spa partnered with fitness-tracking firm Whoop to offer a new $1,185-per-night wellness program.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

On the island of Lanai, Hawaii, nine miles off the coast of Maui, sits an ultra-luxe retreat, the brainchild of Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison. 

Known as Sensei Retreat, it’s a wellness spa driven by data located at Four Seasons resort Sensei Lanai. This month, Sensei unveiled a new partnership with fitness-tracking company Whoop to help track health metrics and work with guests to keep tabs on their long-term wellness. 

Sensei CEO Kevin Kelly said in a statement about the program that the goal of Sensei is to help people “live longer, healthier lives” by improving sleep, movement, and nutrition. Sensei is guided by health science, data, and research, the company says. 

While Ellison previously lived in the Bay Area, the resort is now in his backyard: Ellison revealed late last year that he had moved to Lanai amid the coronavirus pandemic. He plans to use “the power of Zoom to work” from the island, he wrote in an email to Oracle employees, who had been asking about Ellison’s plans in the wake of Oracle moving its headquarters to Austin, Texas

Lanai, which is home to about 3,200 residents, is the smallest inhabited island in Hawaii and is home to serene beaches, rugged terrain, high-end resorts, and Ellison’s sustainability ambitions, which he’s executing through a development company called Pulama Lanai. 

Take a look inside Ellison’s eco-friendly, data-powered resort. 

In 2012, Ellison bought 98% of the island of Lanai for an estimated $300 million.

Lanai Hawaii
Lanai, Hawaii.

Since then, he’s worked to make Lanai a tourist destination, including purchasing budget airline Island Air to ferry passengers from Oahu to Lanai. (He has since sold a controlling interest in the airline). 

Ellison is also hoping to turn Lanai into a wellness utopia. He launched Sensei, which has two main projects: a hydroponic farm powered by Tesla solar panels, and the luxury spa. Sensei’s goal is to use data to help people lead healthier and longer lives.

Sensei built two 20,000-square-foot hydroponic greenhouses, known as Sensei Farms. The greenhouses are powered by 1,600 Tesla solar panels (Ellison sits on Tesla’s board) and the heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers grown at Sensei Farms are used at Sensei Retreat’s in-house Nobu restaurant.

Tesla solar panels Puerto Rico
Tesla solar panels in Puerto Rico.

Source: Forbes

The resort is located in the central part of the island, known as Lanai City. Guests who visit Sensei Retreat are offered a customizable experience: They set physical and mental goals for their stay and the spa tracks their sleep, nutrition, and blood flow.

Sensei Lanai Hawaii

Source: Forbes

The new partnership with Whoop, called the Optimal Wellbeing Program, is a data-driven program that allows guests to track their metrics using a customized, Sensei version of Whoop’s fitness bands.

Sensei Lanai Hawaii

Source: Sensei

Before guests arrive, they’ll go through an orientation and build an itinerary for their stay. The rate includes sessions with a specialist known as a Sensei Guide, who will help guests set wellness goals.

Sensei Lanai Hawaii

Source: Sensei

Once they arrive, guests will experience a “thermal body mapping” experience or 120-minute massage, a blood biomarker test, and private sessions to help improve movement, nutrition, and mindfulness.

Sensei Lanai Hawaii

Source: Sensei

There are also free yoga and meditation classes as part of the program, and guests will get a $500 credit that can be used for various activities, including spa treatments or the Lanai Adventure Park, an Ellison-owned ropes and zipline park located on a former golf course.

Sensei Lanai Hawaii

Source: Sensei, Lanai Adventure Park

The program, which mandates a minimum stay of five nights, costs between $1,185 and $1,715 per night.

Sensei Lanai Hawaii

Source: Sensei

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