Just like their open field colleagues, indoor farmers are constantly working to optimize nutrient use. Denmark’s Nordetect wants to offer a helping hand by providing an on-farm test.
“We have a tiny test cartridge, similar to what people use to measure blood sugar, that allows a farmer or agronomist to more specifically make measurements in the field,” co-founder Keenan Pinto told AFN.
“More specifically, an indoor grower can [use it] measure the water quality and also measure the nutrient content in the leaves to get a much better understanding of what they need to apply.”
“We are basically going after chemical and biochemical usage in the food chain,” he added.
Today, Nordetect announced the close of its $1.5 million seed round led by early-stage tech investor Luminate NY. Rockstart, SOSV, PreSeed Ventures, and Vækstfonden (The Danish Growth Fund)also joined the round.
Each investor brings a specialization to the table, according to Pinto. Rockstart is focused on European agrifoodtech, while SOSV brings a strong focus on scalable hardware, he said. This is particularly valuable to Nordetect because it offers a pre-harvest, hardware-based product. Meanwhile, lead investor Luminate specializes in optics, photonics, and imaging, which are the core technologies behind controlled environment agriculture (CEA). Pre-Seed Ventures rounds things out as a local, Danish anchor investor, Pinto added.
Nordetect will use the new funding to commercialize its tech by providing indoor and vertical farmers with portable analysis devices. The hardware comes at a fixed one-time price, with the sampling cartridges sold separately.
Founded in 2016, the Copenhagen-based startup describes its technology as a ‘lab-on-a-chip’ aimed at reducing the time of getting test results from a few weeks to a few minutes.
Having completed a few pilots with outdoor farms in Denmark and Sweden, it decided last year to pivot to indoor farming thanks to guidance from Rockstart, which saw water testing in horticulture as a faster route to market.
A few other companies are targeting rapid soil and water testing for agriculture. But what makes Nordetect unique is its focus on nutrient balance, Pinto said.
“When it comes to the water testing space we don’t see as many startups, but we see a lot of incumbent companies like Xylem and Merck. [But] they have these lab-based solutions […] that greenhouses have adopted because they didn’t have a tailored solution for them,” he said.
Pivot to indoor farming
CEA startups have seen rapid growth in recent years, with VIP talent increasingly attracted to the space. The expansion of the industry is creating more opportunities for entrepreneurs who can assist indoor farmers with everything from scaling their operations to adding new crops in the mix.
Pinto found the CEA sector to be more ready to consider tech solutions compared to traditional farming.
“The outdoor space was a bit more risk-averse,” he said.
“That was a unique change about moving to indoor farming, where suddenly customers were much more enthusiastic and knew what we were talking about and the benefits. Sometimes I would book an hour for a sales call and it would only take 25 minutes for them to say ‘yes.'”
Indoor and vertical farms’ inherent reliance on digital tools and data could be part of the reason that Nordetect has found more traction there, Pinto added.
Nevertheless, there are challenges ahead for Nordetect.
“Manufacturing those cartridges at scale is no easy task. It’s a proprietary device that requires a proprietary production line,” Pinto explained. “There are a few companies that can support contract manufacturing like this.”
That’s why a significant portion of the seed funding is going to commercialization and production capabilities.
But Pinto is confident that there’s a place in the market for Nordetect’s solution, in spite of the hurdles it faces in scaling up.
“When we look at the food chain, there are many areas where chemistry or biochemistry is used, and needs to be tested against,” Pinto said.
“When you talk about pesticides, toxins, allergens – there are a lot of points that need to be measured. It starts with optimization at the farm end, and then moves up to quality control as you come further towards the fork.”