Pollination is a critical time for growers. Although there are a variety of technologies and services designed to get the job done, there are many wrinkles.
First, the process can also be tedious, time-consuming, and expensive. Demand is increasing for bee-based pollination services, meaning there may not be enough rental bees to go around.
And for many crops – including maize – pollination is reliant on hitting the exact right timeframe to ensure the female parts of one flower are receptive at the same time the male parts other flowers are releasing pollen.
Iowa’s PowerPollen has developed a method for applying preserved or fresh pollen outside the window of natural pollination of maize seed. With PowerPollen’s “on-demand” pollination tech, the process is no longer reliant on the male plant’s daily shedding window of approximately three hours.
California’s BeeHero blossoms with $4 million seed funding to commercialize precision pollination – read more here
The startup claims that this enables pollination at any time of day or night, maximizing yield and reducing the impact of adverse weather conditions. Crops like corn, wheat, and rice rely on wind to bring pollen to the field. In corn, pollen sheds during a two to three-hour window and has a lifespan of less than one hour. If pollination doesn’t happen, then crop losses ensue.
PowerPollen’s system starts by tracking plants throughout the maturation cycle to pinpoint the right window for pollination. When they reach reproductive maturity, PowerPollen uses a custom-designed attachment on a standard tractor to collect pollen from male plants. Within 15 minutes of collection, the pollen is preserved and stored at an in-field collection lab.
A custom applicator tractor attachment is then used to ensure that pollen is distributed evenly throughout the field when pollination is performed.
Read on to learn more from co-founders Todd Krone (TK) and Jason Cope (JC) about how PowerPollen is hoping to revolutionize the bee business.
AFN: Where are you at with the business right now?
TK: PowerPollen has commercialized its on-demand pollination technology within the US. Depending on our success in 2021, commercialization may expand into Europe and South America in 2022. PowerPollen possesses year-round R&D and technology advancement capabilities by operating from our base locations in Ankeny and Ames, Iowa, while running satellite operations in Puerto Rico and Texas.
AFN: What is your business model?
JC: We license [our] intellectual property to seed producers. This intellectual property package offers unique and unparalleled access to tools for on-demand pollinations.
AFN: Who is your target user?
TK: Our technology is currently offered to corn seed producers who rely on the environment and antiquated production systems to pollinate their crops. The technology will be offered to grain producers in the next two to three years.
AFN: What has been your experience of fundraising to date? And if you have external investors, how are they helping you?
JC: PowerPollen has completed several rounds of funding totaling $26 million. This funding has enabled us to scale the collection, preservation, and application process. We’re now entering its next stage of fundraising which will allow for further technological advancement and commercial scaling of its technology.
We’ve experienced exceptional support from investors, partners, and collaborators to date. Our investors span a wide variety of interests including corporate, strategic, and angel.
AFN: What are the key challenges you face?
TK: Mass and effective scaling of PowerPollen technology is our number one current priority. This challenge requires a disciplined focus on solutions amidst many business development opportunities that can dilute progress.
Agility is a competitive advantage for small startups, which allows you to take advantage of the pace of change when compared to larger companies. Grit is needed to persevere and get through the very long journey. It is an important character trait as it is impossible to anticipate all of the challenges and surprises in a startup journey.
Related to this is the extraordinary handling needed to cultivate innovation into actual products that make money. In other words, innovative ideas and concepts are very fragile.
[We had to learn to pick and choose] from the many ideas and opportunities available, to focus on the most critical immediate success factors. [And we had to ensure] return on investment for the business and our investors.
AFN: How has Covid-19 impacted your business?
JC: First and foremost, it has given us an appreciation for the flexibility and dedication of our team to operate in a variety of ways and working modes that we previously thought impossible. Tactically, Covid-19 has created extra steps to assure the health and safety of our team as well as those we interact with when conducting business.
For the most part, our team remained healthy and productive during the pandemic and fortunately, for the few that were impacted by Covid-19 directly, they experienced minor symptoms and were able to continue working remotely. Since much of our work takes place outdoors and many times [we’re] far apart physically from one another, we were able to continue our work with a few extra precautions.
AFN: What advice do you have for other startups out there?
TK: Flexibility is key. Fail fast is imperative. Innovation is essential. Innovative, break-the-box thinkers and talent are critical. Prepare to adjust strategic and tactical direction quickly in the best interests of advancing innovation. Be prepared that customer expectations may differ from your original concepts and thoughts for a business model. Cash burns fast; use it wisely, stay on focus, make sure proper controls are in place – but don’t stifle good ideas.