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Remote Sensing Startup Skycision Raises $1.1m Seed from Rural America Ag Innovation Fund

March 19, 2018

Remote sensing startup Skycision has raised a $1.1 million seed round led by Innova Memphis.

Skycision uses drone and satellite imagery to help farmers with decision-making in order to boost yield and profitability. The technology focuses on identifying changes in fields over time, analyzing three to five years of satellite data and present-day drone imagery to find variances and spot disease earlier in specialty crops, especially higher margin crops like grapes.

Also participating in the round were Dane Scurich, with California berry operation Scurich Berry Farms, and Pete Nelson with AgLaunch, a Memphis-based Accelerator. Most of Skycision’s customer’s to date have been vineyards in Napa Valley, including Treasury Wine Estates a global winemaking and distribution operations. And Skycision is in the process of broadening its portfolio of clients into other high-margin crops

“By closing this investment, we are able to expand our solution beyond our initial market in wine grapes to other specialty crops such as berries, fruit, and nut trees,” said Brendan Carroll, Skycision founder and CEO. 

Carroll told AgFunderNews that this focus on specialty crops is a  point of differentiation from other remote sensing platforms that have been “repurposed from row crop operations.” The company is currently piloting with several growers outside of wine including a supplier of Driscoll’s berries.

Carroll said that with crops like strawberries, the impact of Skycision’s decision-support capabilities can be felt almost immediately since the growers he works with harvest weekly. Proving the bottom-line impact of any digital solution for ag quickly is a major hurdle for many startups, and Carroll says that focusing on high-yielding, crops with a shorter lifecycle can improve farmer adoption of his technology. 

“In this day and age of slim margins on commodity crops, Brendan’s decision to initially focus on high-value crops such as berries, nuts, and vegetables resonated with us. After all, it is within this segment where annual losses of even a few percent in the field can dramatically affect their profitability. It was also in this segment where growers see the immediate need and are willing and able to pay for the service,” said Dean Didato, partner at Innova.

Innova Memphis became aware of Skycision through the AgLaunch Accelerator, from which Skycision recently graduated.

Founded in 2007 by the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, Innova focuses on starting and funding high-growth companies in the biosciences, technology and agtech fields. 

Funding for Skycision came from the Innova Ag Innovation Fund IV, which is part of the USDA’s Rural Business Investment Program (RBIP). The fund has been certified and licensed to operate as a Rural Business Investment Company (RBIC). 

The goal of each RBIC is to help fill the need for business and development capital in rural areas. A minimum of 75% of funds from an RBIC must be made in rural areas with a population of 50,000 or less, a minimum of 50% of funds must be invested in smaller enterprises, and a maximum of 10% may be invested in urban areas. Skycision is colocated in Pittsburg, PA and Watsonville, CA.  

Since launching the fund in May 2017, Innova has made nine early stage investments totaling $1.2 million, Didato told AgFunderNews.

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