Western Growers Association Awards Equity Investment to Automation Startup
- by Kayla Webb
IRVINE, CA - With an eye on the future of our industry and what entities will help us get there more efficiently, Western Growers’ AgSharks™ Competition saw a $250,000 equity investment offer awarded to robot-building start-up Augean Robotics.
“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 looks to build robots to help farm workers work more productively, with the long-term objective of automating all of the tedious work performed on the farms and outdoors, according to a press release. Its product, Burro, follows workers, moves cargo autonomously, and captures the data needed to further automate farm work.
In addition to the investment, Augean Robotics walked away with access to farm acreage for pilot testing to take its collaborative robotic platform from development to market. The seed funding was awarded by S2G (Seed 2 Growth) Ventures after competing against four other start-up companies who also are inventing new technology solutions to solve agriculture’s most pressing issues.
“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 of six experts in venture capitalism and the ag industry. The panel also included:
- Vic Smith, President & CEO of JV Smith Companies
- Kevin Andrew, Chief Farming Officer at Vanguard International
- Cristina Rohr, Vice President at S2G Ventures
- Matthew Walker, Managing Director at S2G Ventures.
- Robby Barkley, President & CEO of Barkley Ag Enterprise
During the competition, the agtech startups pitched to the judges and a live audience, being evaluated on the strength of their solution and potential to scale, among other assessment categories, according to a press release. The panel of judges provided feedback to each startup and advanced Augean Robotics to earn the investment offer.
“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.”
AgSharks premiered last October, where two agtech startups—Hazel Technologies and AgVoice—received a $2.25 million total investment offer from S2G Ventures. It is the latest WGA 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.