IRVINE, Calif. — Augean Robotics walked away from the Western Growers’ AgSharks Competition today with a $250,000 equity investment offer, as well as access to farm acreage for pilot testing, to take its collaborative robotic platform from development to market. The seed funding was awarded by S2G Ventures (Seed 2 Growth) after competing against four other start-up companies who also are inventing new technology solutions to solve agriculture’s most pressing issues.
By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach 9.1 billion, and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that food production will need to increase by as much as 70 percent to feed the growing population. In an effort to identify new and innovative technologies that will play a role in improving global food security, Western Growers created the first agtech competition to offer real-time investment opportunities and decision-making in front of a live audience -- AgSharks.
“If we are going to continue providing safe and healthy food to a growing population, there needs to be a systemic transformation of the way we cultivate our food. That’s where technology comes in,” said Tom Nassif, president and CEO at Western Growers. “Providing growth opportunities for cutting-edge companies such as Augean Robotics will play a significant role in improving how we farm so we can dramatically increase food production. Also, investing in these innovations will be crucial to minimizing our need for manual laborers through automation and reducing our environmental footprint through efficient water use.”
Augean Robotics is a hardware/software/data company building robots to help farmworkers work more productively, with the long term objective of automating all of the tedious work performed on the farms and outdoors. Their product, Burro, is a robotic platform that follows workers, moves cargo autonomously, and captures the data needed to further automate farm work. Their technology will enable farmers to make improvements in operational efficiencies, facilitating the growth and future of U.S. farms to produce a sustainable supply of fresh produce.
“In S2G and Western Growers, we see a group with boots on the ground and eyes on the horizon – keenly aware of the day to day needs of farmers and the incredible potential for robots in agriculture over the coming decade,” said Charles Andersen, CEO of Augean Robotics. “We are honored to have their support and look forward to working together as we bring collaborative robots to the industry that needs it most.”
During the competition, the agtech startups pitched to six expert judges and a live audience where they were evaluated on the strength of their solution and potential to scale, among other assessment categories. The panel of judges, which were comprised of venture capitalists and leaders in the agricultural industry, provided feedback to each startup and advanced Augean Robotics to earn the investment offer.
“We continue to value this partnership with Western Growers and their members,” said Sanjeev Krishnan, chief investment officer and managing director at S2G Ventures. “By providing capital to the entrepreneurs at Augean Robotics and WG’s market knowledge, we can feed the changing consumer and generate increased profits for the producers.”
Krishnan was among the judges’ panel, which also included Kevin Andrew, chief farming officer at Vanguard International; Robby Barkley, president & CEO of Barkley Ag Enterprise; Cristina Rohr, vice president at S2G Ventures; Vic Smith, president & CEO of JVSmith Companies; and Matthew Walker, managing director at S2G Ventures.
AgSharks premiered last October, where two agtech startups – Hazel Technologies and AgVoice – received a $2.25 million total investment offer from S2G Ventures. AgSharks is the latest WG effort to identify key innovations in the fresh produce industry and support agtech startups in bringing their technology to market. Previous efforts include opening an agtech incubator—the WG Center for Innovation & Technology—in December 2015, and launching the AgTechx Summit series, which brings new ag technologies to major farming regions.