Some people create bacon from seaweed or invent a gel for plants and others produce wine corks that narrate stories. These are ideas that are circulating in the world of agriculture technology, or agritech, a â€śfertile groundâ€ť for innovative solutions that address crucial issues for the future of humanity such as sustainability and food security.
Agritech is also a flourishing industry, as shown by data released by Agfunder, an online investment marketplace dedicated to the sector. In 2017 alone, investments in the sectorâ€™s startups totalled more than 10 billion dollars. Overall 994 deals were completed, up by 29%. So itâ€™s worth having a look at the sectorâ€™s most interesting startups to understand them and assess when their inventions will impact tomorrowâ€™s agriculture. Ultimately, we also rely on them for what we will eat in the future.
In Europe and in the rest of the world
A wrap made with seaweeds. This is the idea of Willem Sodderland, a Dutch entrepreneur specialised in the creation of food from marine algae. But not just wraps, his startup also markets pasta and bacon entirely made of seaweeds. The food produced is more nutritious, gluten free, less caloric and obviously environmentally friendly.
An insect factory. This is the intuition of a French startup that breeds and sells mealworms to produce proteins to feed fish and other livestock. This way, the Frenchman Antoine Hubert hopes to solve sustainability problems such as the significant damage caused to the marine ecosystem and the surge in the cost of food supplies for fish farms. His â€śYnsectâ€ť offers a sustainable alternative.
Farming on a cloud? Itâ€™s possible, if the cloud is digital. CropX, an Israeli startup managed by Isaac Bentwich, developed a software that helps farmers save water and energy. Thanks to a network of sensors, CropX indicates the correct amount of water, at the right temperature, for each crop. Through their smartphones, users can, thanks to the cloud, check data on a realtime basis.
Naveen Sikka was in his early 20s when he discovered the pongamia pinnata and grasped that it could be a very useful tree. No sooner said than done, Naveen is now at the helm of a startup in Oakland, California, using pongamia trees to produce fuel, protein for animal feed and biomass for the generation of power. Terviva is valued at 30 million dollars.
How to keep food fresh during transportation? This is the conundrum from which started Mark Barnekow, CEO of BluWrap, a San Francisco startup that patented a solution that uses an electrochemical device (a fuel cell) to reduce and monitor oxygen and temperature in containers during food transportation. BluWrap guarantees to maintain food fresh for more than 40 days, a significant improvement on traditional solutions.
From hair gel to a gel for plants. Dan Miller, a Stanford-educated engineer, is the inventor of mOasis, a â€śmagicalâ€ť non toxic gel that acts as a soil additive. Itâ€™s advantage? mOasis contributes to improving soil water retention thus reducing waste and boosting productivity. It curbs water usage by 25% and increases production by 30%.
This Trentino-based startup founded by Matteo Sansoni created a system to have vertical vegetable gardens at home. The solution enables to grow over 200 plants in a square metre thanks to an automated aeroponic system.
The device is simple. You only need to fill a water tank situated at the foot of the vertical structure and sow on the shelves the seeds of the plants you want to grow. This way, the plantsâ€™ roots dangle in mid-air and are fed, after plugging Veve to the electrical socket, by spraying nutrients. An original, thrifty and uncumbersome way of enjoying locally-grown vegetables.
This is an idea that comes from the province of Naples. The startup designed a network of sensors that gathers data on crops, processes it and advises farmers on how to boost productivity. It uses crucial variables such as temperature, humidity, solar radiation and the moistness of leaves.
To further certify the potential of the project, the startup created by Davide Parisi recently opened up its capital to two giants suppliers of the agricultural industry: the German group BayWa and its Austrian peer Rwa.
Wenda saw the light in the Emilia region. The company created a hi-tech cork for wine bottles. The device controls the temperature and the bottleâ€™s exposure to UV rays. But Antonio Catapanoâ€™s idea goes further. Wenda is also a solution to fighting counterfeiting and a means of entertainment. Indeed, the cork can be connected to a smartphone app and tell anecdotes about the wine and its producer.