“About 15 years ago I started working on drones. At the time you couldn’t buy any in Australia and this work introduced me to a bunch of growers because we could detect weeds from the air,” he said.
“They thought it was good and asked if we could do something with them, so we started to move into ground robotics.
“About two years ago there was enough direction and interest from the growers and international bodies, that it felt like now was the right time to think about how to commercialise this.”
Sydney University connected Dr Sukkarieh with Uniseed who helped him develop a business strategy and connected him with other investors.
Carthona Capital partner Dean Dorrell said the size of Australia’s farms and the high cost of labour meant automation technologies like that developed like Agerris had huge potential.
“Agtech has been a major project in Carthona’s thematic investing approach and our investment in Agerris has been the culmination of a worldwide search for the best possible IP and team to invest in,” he said.
“We expect to fund Agerris through multiple rounds and build a globally significant agtech business. We hope that this is a watershed moment for agtech in Australia considering that the sector has been massively underfunded in the past. This one Agerris deal will be larger than all the VC money deployed into agtech in 2017.”
The $6.5 million in funding will let the company begin producing its robots, with the start-up hoping to have a handful of its more expensive Swagbots in use on large farms within a year, while it already has deals in the pipeline for its cheaper robot to be used on regional farms and in schools in country NSW.
“Growers worldwide are being impacted by weed resistance, climate change, low labour availability, high labour costs and the growing awareness for the need to use less chemicals and less energy,” Dr Sukkarieh said.
“Our platforms help to mitigate these challenges and help increase productivity and environmental sustainability by giving farmers smart precision automated farming approaches.”