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The 5 most innovative agri-tech startups for 2020

Publication Date: 04 Nov 2019 - By Manika P. By Manika P.
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Thematic Private Equity UK Agriculture

The food industry’s advancing rapidly from farm-to-fork. While changing consumer preferences are changing the “fork” end of the supply chain, technological innovation is making the “farm” end more efficient, sustainable and cost-effective. Here’s a look at some of the most innovative agri-tech companies that are changing the way farming is done.

#1. Earth Rover: If the name rings a bell, it is for a reason. The weed destroying robotic device manufacturer is associated with the same scientists who are behind the path-breaking Mars Rover, considered as the most ambitious Mars mission yet. Some fungibility between the technological applications seems to be the underlying similarity between these two. “Simple, robust, unlikely to break” is quoted to be the goal of the Earth Rover, along the lines of the one due to be in space in 2020. Founded in 2017, the company uses lasers to destroy weeds, without damaging the actual crop. It also claims to harvest crops at the right time and according to news reports, it can do more work than 200 farmhands. It has raised an unknown amount of funding from Edinburgh based venture capital fund Par Equity.   

#2. The small robot company: Automation of the entire farming process is the name of the game for this company, which provides greater efficiency while being cost-effective. It takes the capital intensity out of farming by making the robots available at a subscription fee making it a flexible arrangement. It’s won multiple awards for its innovation and quickly reached its crowd-funding target of £500,000 in 2018,  but eventually ended up raising £1.2m instead. It has now raised a total of £2.5m raised with funding support from organisations like Innovate UK, Indegogo and the Institute of Engineering and Technology. It is not just capital intensity that this company is reducing, but also labour intensity, in favour of technological capability. With ageing populations on the one hand and the lessening popularity of globalisation and relatively freer labour movement along with it on the other, companies like this one is could well be the answer to efficiency in agricultural production going forward.  

#3. Roslin technologies: Some reports call it the largest start-up in UK history in its specific domain, which is animal science innovation. A University of Edinburgh and private equity advisors JB Equity, Roslin Technologies was founded in 2016 and has received on round of funding the next year, of an appreciable £10m from the British Innovation Fund, whose objective is to invest in world-class technology developed at British universities with a focus on bio-technology, life-sciences, agricultural technologies and healthcare. Most recently, the company has entered into a contract to develop E. Coli vaccine for cattle, a bacteria which does not typically harm it but can be fatal for humans when it gets transferred through contaminated dairy and meat products.

#4. IceRobotics: Another company focused on animal science, IceRobotics provides information on animal health through ‘Cow Alert’; which it defines as a “cloud-based analytical system”. This in turn provides advance information to users, who can then act on it accordingly. While the technology itself is promising, the advent of the ‘alternative consumer’ calls to question how far dairy can sustain its dominance in a market that is increasingly inundated with a range of plant-based milks. Dairy farmers’ profits declined by 50% for the first quarter of 2019. The number of dairy farmers is on the decline as well. But the overall trend is firmly in favour of cow milk, with 87% Britons showing preference for it. Founded in 2002, it is a relative slow-mover with £1.1m raised with a grant from Innovate UK. The Edinburgh based company may well be coming into its own now, having been nominated for Scotland Tech Top 50 last year by the BusinessCloud publication last year.

#5. Hummingbird Technologies: This London based company is has attracted much investor attention since it was founded less than four years ago. It has raised $17.6m so far with the support of no less than 11 funders that include BASF Venture Capital and the Canadian TELUS Ventures as the most recent ones. Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Company (SALIC) is one of the biggest investors in this multi-national provider of analytics on crop health, having invested £7m in it earlier this year. It artificial intelligence to remote sensing data across a number of crops in geographies like the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Ukraine and Brazil. Its products support irrigation scheduling and grassweed mapping as well as providing accurate plant counts, mapping areas ready for spray applications among others. It won the Best British Tech Startup award at the Mobile World Congress this year in a competition organised by KPMG’s Innovative Startup practice.

This is by no means even close to an exhaustive list on the agri-tech innovation taking place in the UK today, but merely an indicative one. While this article focuses more on technologies aiding food production, there are others that are notable ones focused on bringing technology to the food market that are also the object of investor focus among others.

Disclosure:

I have no positions in any of the securities referenced in the contribution

I do not use any non-public, material information in this contribution

To the best of my knowledge, the views expressed in this contribution comply with UK law

I agree with the terms and conditions of ReachX

This contribution is for informational purpose and does not constitute investment advice nor is it an offer to sell or buy, nor is it a recommendation for any security.

Manika P.

 

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