Californian startup Centaur Analytics has raised $3 million from a consortium of investors led by early-stage tech investor Marathon Venture Capital.
Centaur is a sensing and IoT platform providing post-harvest monitoring to the agricultural supply chain to reduce waste and improve food safety.
This latest round of funding attracted strategic investment from Detia Degesch Group, the German post-harvest products company, which joined the round alongside existing investors OurCrowd and Israeli-American serial entrepreneur Avi Reichental.
“Detia Degesch has been instrumental in helping us improve our tech for customers worldwide, so we feel strongly about this relationship,” company CEO Sotiris Bantas told AgFunderNews.
“It also serves as validation because having a strategic partner who is a well-entrenched player in the ag supply chain is providing the proof for our technology. Having met the standards that a company like this would expect to see before investing in this new technology is important.”
The company plans to use the funds to accelerate the deployment of its Internet-of-Crops Platform and to expand its predictive analytics and quality chain management systems for commodities such as grains, flour, and high-value commodities. This investment round will help position the startup to meet what it identifies as a growing demand for its products, to expand its installed base of connected sensors worldwide, and to extend the functionality of its specialized quality analytics solutions for major crop categories.
Launched in 2014, Centaur began as a typical bootstrapped startup operating in stealth mode to hone its product and proof of concept.
“This helped to, first of all, ensure that we were developing the right product that was solving real customer problems and it brought some early revenue,” Bantas explains. “So, when we approached the first investors who invested in 2016, we already had proof of concept and a product that was working with customer testimonials.”
From Bantas’ perspective, there’s plenty of capital being funneled into farm tech. The post-harvest space continues to be a blue ocean opportunity for investors, and he’s seen an increased interest from the VC world in finding spaces within agtech that are less crowded than the more well-defined categories like precision ag.
“I guess post-harvest is the logical next step, which has begun to and will continue to draw more investment capital going forward.”
Currently operating everything from trials to full-on product deployments in 12 countries, Centaur’s proprietary sensors and Internet-of-Crops Platform monitors stored and transported crops across five continents, according to the company. Current customers include leading grain buyers, flour mills, logistics providers and pest control companies.
The product combines hardware in the form of wireless sensors with software to help customers keep tabs on the condition of grains and other stored crops. The software uses sensor readings to predict whether a batch of grain or another commodity may be at risk of experiencing improper storage conditions or a potential pest invasion.
“We are not just monitoring sensor signals, we are also analyzing the data streams that are coming from storage and converting them into actionable insights with respect to product quality,” says Bantas. “One of the things we do, for instance, is provide smart crop sensors that provide signals and data on temperature and moisture of grain. We can take it one step further by predicting the quality of that grain not only today but in the future.”
Sensor-based technology that communicates information to the cloud is nothing new for agtech, but Bantas and Centaur claim to have cracked a tricky piece of the post-harvest management puzzle. The company’s sensors are capable of sending information or data to the cloud from inside a storage bin, silo, or elevator whereas many existing solutions on the market can only measure external readings, he says. Bantas thinks this is largely because many existing solutions are not wireless like Centaur’s sensors.
“Cracking the problem of transmitting the signal came first for us. There are products out there that can get you readings like the temperature of the grain and a moisture indication, but we don’t really see anybody matching our solution in its full breath. No other vendor can give a predictive analysis of quality. What made this possible for us is that we hired and worked with people who had designed and worked on this technology in prior careers like military tech or defense electronics and who had the expertise that we repurposed into designing our smart sensors.”
Centaur has also dabbled in the high-value commodities world, providing monitoring and predictive analytics for crops like almonds and walnuts where Bantas has seen little to no competition.
To attract customers, Centaur is a heavy player in the tradeshow world, targeting both tech-focused and ag-focused events. The company maintains offices throughout the world and is focusing most of its efforts on tapping into the North American market, which it sees as the center of gravity for the commodity trading and handling industry as well as food and beverage.
“We sell to customers in industries and sectors of the market that are more inert, and they are not known to adopt new technology as fast as other areas. We try to use this to our advantage in the sense that being one of the first tech companies to address issues in this space gives us an opportunity to educate our customers about the product’s purpose, usefulness, and ROI,” says Bantas. “That’s a challenge but also an opportunity, and that helps us focus our resources on driving a good argument and justification for the product.
“Our investment in Centaur underscores our commitment to reducing post-harvest risks and waste through advanced solutions,” said Dr. Marco Rudolf, CEO of Detia Degesch. “Having evaluated and used Centaur’s products under demanding field conditions, we now believe that they are the most viable and scalable technology to address current and emerging challenges for the supply chain of agricultural commodities. We believe that our participation can act as a force multiplier to help the company reach its ambitious goals, for the benefit of our clients and consumers worldwide.”
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