Augean Robotics is a true testament to the phrase “persistence pays off.”
The robotics start-up company—which builds a fully autonomous, vision-based farming robot called “Burro”—returned to the AgSharks® Competition stage this past October for a second shot at winning $250,000 in seed funding. The early-stage company first competed in AgSharks in 2017 during the Western Growers Annual Meeting in Las Vegas. After fiercely pitching Burro to a panel of investors from S2G Ventures and specialty crop farmers, Augean Robotics was not selected as a winner and subsequently did not earn the investment capital at stake.
The startup, which is headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, with another office in Salinas, CA, at the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology, used the experience as a learning opportunity. Implementing the feedback they received from the AgSharks judges and other stakeholders, the principals refined their product to better fit the needs of agricultural industry.
They came back this year, looking to change the outcome.
“We’ve been very persistent,” said Charlie Andersen, CEO of Augean Robotics. “We pitched last year and didn’t win. Since then, we’ve assembled the world’s best team, found initial customers and have been through a whirlwind of progress. We believe that we are the best play in the world in which to deploy capital into agtech robotics, and I’m glad that we won the judges over this year.”
Augean Robotics walked away from the 2018 competition 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 also inventing new technology solutions to solve agriculture’s most pressing issues.
Burro can follow workers; autonomously move cargo by acting as a virtual conveyor belt from where people are working to where the crops are being collected; and captures the data needed to further automate farm work. According to Andersen, farmworkers often spend 20 to 30 percent of their day running produce back and forth to a collection point. Burro eliminates that.
“Our launch product, Burro, automates repetitive in-field transit, and is the first step towards completely autonomous farming in the most labor-intensive, highest-margin crops,” said Andersen. “We are giving growers a platform that can be expanded to do more tasks autonomously and will enable farmers to make improvements in operational efficiencies.”
In addition to winning the favor of the judges, the robotics startup also won over the audience. Annual Meeting attendees who watched the pitch session had the opportunity to rank each of the five competing companies’ technology as: buy, try or deny. Augean Robotics received the highest percentage of “buys,” which played a role S2G Ventures’ decision to invest.
“When we went backstage to speak about the pitches and choose a company to invest in, we walked into it with a certain vision and walked out of it with a different outcome,” said Sanjeev Krishnan, S2G Ventures’ chief investment officer and managing director. 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 JV Smith Companies; and Matthew Walker, managing director at S2G Ventures.
“The top two in the try, buy, deny poll were Augean and Bird Control Group. The audience was comprised mostly of Western Growers members and hearing how they felt led us to make offers to both companies,” said Krishnan.
Though Bird Control Group was made an investment offer, officials decided to decline the deal at hand and are currently in discussion with S2G about other potential opportunities.
Augean Robotics left the stage as the sole victor of the competition, receiving the funding needed to deploy more prototypes into field trials with growers. They plan to use any feedback they receive to fine tune their product toward early commercialization next year. The startup expects to deploy 100 robots in 2019.
“With this capital from S2G and partnership and support from Western Growers, we can continue to scale and create more value for the agriculture industry. We hear so much dialogue about robots, robots, robots, and we are looking forward to finally putting an automated solution into the hands of growers,” said Andersen.