Several startup companies recently participated in the 2019 SVG Ventures-Thrive Accelerator Program. The accelerator invests in, mentors and connects startups with investors and other businesses for partnerships, as well as with growers for field trials and future business relationships. The Bee Corp of Bloomington, Indiana, applies data analytics to beehives to help growers ensure pollination through infrared-inspection technology. The technology monitors number, health and distribution of pollinating bees.
Ellie Symes and Wyatt Wells co-founded the company in 2016 after winning a business competition at Indiana University. Both graduates of the university, they were concerned about hive loss. One-third of the food produced in the United States requires bee pollination for crop production, Symes said.
“We were very happy to have been chosen to participate in the accelerator,” she said. “We applied for the program because SVG Ventures-Thrive does a great job of supporting specialty crops, and many of those crops need bees.”
The company’s Verifli system collects infrared images using a camera installed on a smartphone. Beekeepers can replace manual hive inspection with Verifli to save time and increase accuracy, according to the company. Beekeepers struggling with labor-scarcity issues may be able to manage with fewer hives. That’s because the technology enables them to focus more on hive health, bee nutrition and supplemental feeding if necessary. That focus could help increase bee strength against environmental stressors, she said.
A more accurate reading of hives also could help beekeepers as they price hives for growers needing pollinators. Growers benefit because they receive a faster more-accurate count of pollinator numbers, Symes said. The Bee Corp has been testing the system with almond growers who are significantly dependent on bees to pollinate their crops.
Tensorfield Agriculture of San Jose, California, has developed robotic systems to weed crops, using thermal micro-dosing technology. One of the reasons for developing the robots was to address the scarcity as well as cost of available labor, said Xiong Chang, CEO of Tensorfield Agriculture.
The company’s team of engineers spoke with members of Western Growers, which represents family farmers growing fresh produce in California and other western states. Growers of spinach and other leafy greens have shown particular interest in the system, Chang said.
Cameras are mounted on a robotic platform that moves through a field. As the camera collects images the system’s machine-learning capability identifies weeds. The camera communicates with a sprayer that treats weeds with a heated-canola solution. Currently the system has been trained to identify about 20 different types of weeds, Chang said.
Wellntel of Milwaukee specializes in groundwater-level monitoring and information systems. The company’s sensor equipment, field services and cloud-based data services turn irrigation wells into real-time groundwater-supply monitoring points. Farmers can use the technology to monitor groundwater supply and analyze seasonal trend data needed for farming operations.
Two-thirds of all irrigation water and one-half of all drinking water is stored underground, said Marian Singer, CEO of Wellntel. And because most water is underground it has been expensive to monitor.
“Unless one is building a new well, no one knows exactly the groundwater supply,” she said.
With increasing populations and a changing climate, reliance on groundwater is critical.
“As reliance on groundwater increases, it can set up conflict,” she said. “States start to implement more regulations. And consumers increasingly demand stewardship of resources.”
Wellntel has developed a sensor that can be installed on a well cap’s port. The sensor uses sound energy that hits the water surface and transmits data to the “cloud.” That enables growers and other users to monitor what’s happening. They can incorporate that information into irrigation management or city-planning projects.
The three companies were among nine companies selected by the accelerator program. They were selected from 275 applicants from 67 countries. SVG Ventures-THRIVE is investing $100,000 in each company.
The startup companies participated in the accelerator’s four-month program. They were provided training in marketing strategies, supply chains, field deployment, fundraising and global expansion. The program culminated with their presentations at the Forbes-THRIVE Demo Day during the Forbes AgTech Summit held June 26 in Salinas, California.