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Precision Farming Startup Receives Funding

Winnebago, Minnesota-based AgTech-startup, Aker Technologies (formerly Leading Edge Technologies), announced on August 27th that it has raised equity financing of $2.6M to further develop its crop diagnostics and analytics platform, specifically its TrueCause™ and Aker Pest Network™ services.

The company also recently set up offices in Creve Coeur, Missouri, part of Greater St. Louis, to continue research and development (R&D) through a collaboration with scientists at the Danforth Plant Science Center. The current investment will in part, also be applied to expand the team in Missouri and to further engage with agricultural clients in the region.

This round of financing was led by St. Louis, Missouri-based enterprise, health and agriculture technology investors, Lewis & Clark Ventures. Overland Park, Kansas-based early stage venture capital firm, Flyover Capital and Peoria-based investment firm, Central Illinois Angels also contributed. The company’s R&D is supported by a recently awarded research grant from the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2) and co-administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

“We are delighted to welcome investors who recognize the innovation gap in an increasingly variable climate environment and the potential of our technology across the industry,” said Orlando Saez, Co-Founder & CEO of Aker Technologies in a recent press release. “Our team is excited to have a close relationship with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center to accelerate evidence-based field monitoring practices, along with new input and trait development.”

Saez earned his Bachelor of Science degree in computer engineering from the University of Puerto Rico, as well as two Map of LandMasters degrees in computer science and business administration focused on strategic management from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He brings almost three decades of executive entrepreneurial leadership experience to Aker Technologies. Saez founded the company with current COO, Todd Golly, also owner of Golly Farms who earned his Bachelor of Science in biosystems & agricultural engineering from the University of Minnesota, after they both took an inspiring trip to the Dominican Republic (Saez’s family’s native country) in 2015.  At a meeting there, they discussed the benefits of precision farming technology with agronomists and farmers concerned with the high cost of pest and disease damage to their crops and the inadequacy of conventional monitoring practices.

In 2016, Saez and Golly decided to address this issue. They launched Aker Technologies to provide a more effective tool for growers, suppliers and ag retailers for assessing disease, pests and other stresses leading to more efficient and profitable crop management practices. The company employs unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to collect high-resolution drone images that are downloaded to an analytical platform where the data can be interpreted by professional agronomists, pathologists and entomologists who identify the threats to crop yield and make predictions regarding how they might spread and should be managed. The resulting reports give clients a means to develop better before, during and after growing season strategies to ensure a higher ROI.

In an interview with Global Ag Investing, late last year, Saez said, “After several years working with hundreds of growers, top agriculture chemical suppliers and industry professionals, we continue to see the need for ground-truthing verification, not only to assess causality to confirm in-season decisions, but also to gain important insight on environmental field conditions to adjust in-season crop management plans.”

This led the company to develop TrueCause™, a hand probe described as an autonomous scouting system equipped with computer vision and environmental sensors.

“We have seen a lot of startups building crop observation via remote sensing technologies and predictive crop models, but nothing as innovative as Aker’s technology to automate the process of crop scouting under the canopy,” said Lewis & Clark Ventures Principal Larry Page, PhD in a press release. “We were particularly impressed with Aker’s early traction with some large agriculture brands, which indicates that they are addressing a real need for growers and retailers.”

The company’s goals are to extend their monitoring service across the 450 counties in the U.S. that produce 75% of the corn and soybean in the country and to generate over $200 million in annual revenue.

As stated on their website, the company’s AkerScout™ crop scouting free app is currently used by thousands across 21 different countries to document and prioritize seasonal crop damage.  This suggests that Aker Technologies’ services may be valued in other agricultural ecosystems. According to Saez, Aker Technologies plans to explore further opportunities in international markets. Saez and Golly have both previously visited Guatemala and Brazil.  Aker Technologies precision farming model could potentially also support ongoing forest preservation efforts in those regions.

“I know that what we’re doing here can be the template that improves crop management practices for farming across the world,” said Saez in an earlier press release.  “My bucket list is to travel the world and have a sense of purpose doing so. I think we have a way to do a lot of good while creating value for our stakeholders.”

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