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SRC's "Tom" robot at work.

Wisdom (and wallets) of the crowd: Small Robot Company closes crowdfunding campaign at £2.1m

February 13, 2020

Small Robot Company (SRC), a British agrobotics startup, has told AFN that it has closed its latest Crowdcube equity crowdfunding campaign at £2.1 million ($2.7 million). The company has now secured a total of £4.84 million in funding to date.

Late on Monday, the VC firm 7percent Ventures was confirmed as lead investor, plowing in £200,000. The move from a high profile player sparked further activity before the round’s close later in the week. By the time of close on Wednesday, a total of 1,759 investors had backed the round.

The funding, the company will note in an upcoming press release today, will finance SRC’s non-chemical weed zapping robot ‘Dick’ to start field trials, and the manufacture of a fleet of ‘Tom’ monitoring robots for its commercial weed mapping service. “We are now very well set for the next phase: commercial delivery. We can now begin manufacturing our robots, as well as delivering our weed zapping technology,” Small Robot Company co-founder Sam Watson-Jones will announce in a release seen by AFN.

In the same release, a company statement from 7 Percent eyed rampant disruption: “We will not invest in any business –however good it might be — which is not a billion-dollar opportunity. We are interested in founders who want to transform a market, not iterate it. Change is the prerequisite to disruption. Therefore, to monopolize a market globally we believe you must fundamentally disrupt it. To do that you must have a product which solves a painful problem in a significantly better way (10x better ideally) than existing solutions, or serves a need which today is not being satisfied in another way.”

Other investors from the crowd have been more specific and agtech focused. Andrew Ward, who is part of the SRC farmer advisory group, said: “I invested because robotics and automation are going to be at the heart of agriculture. Environmental care coupled with efficient and profitable food production. We’re under pressure to use less chemistry and fewer inputs on the crop – applying products to 100% of a field needs to change. Robotics is the way forward. Investing will help Small Robot Company develop these robots into useful tools for our future. This is the fourth agricultural revolution.”

This vision will have some holdups. Regulatory requirements could make life harder, and for hardware companies like SRC, the problem for their models has always been versatility, affordability, connectivity, energy, and reliability. Those problems will remain headaches for these companies, even with advances in AI and 5G connectivity rolling out; though potentially the emergence of companies providing robotic ‘weeding-as-a-service’ might help on the financial viability side. Equally, a consumer push for fewer chemicals in their food, and a tight labour market in rural areas, might hasten adoption.

So can SRC’s partnerships with the likes of RootWave, a UK startup developing ways to kill weeds with ever more precise zaps of electricity. In a more traditional fundraising campaign, Rootwave recently raised a €6.5 million ($7 million) Series A investment round. SRC will also gain from a spirit of collaboration developing in this emergent sector, as seen with the growth of the International Forum of Agricultural Robotics, known by its French acronym of FIRA, which you can read about here. The host in Toulouse last December was France’s Naio Technologies, which duly raised its own €14 million Series A to build more agri-robots, as AFN reported.

One further striking point about the SRC raise: it highlights once again the relevance of influencer investors in crowdfunding campaigns to bring in the numbers and get a small startup on the map. Will Evans, who is a farmer as well as a dedicated farming industry influencer with his Rock & Roll farming podcast, said: “I invested because I believe Small Robot Company’s vision encapsulates the future of agriculture – and the scale of opportunity is huge. We’re on the cusp of tremendous change. SRC’s tech is front and centre of the fourth agricultural revolution. And I’m impressed by the talent and tenacity of the team. They’re the ones taking farming forward.”

What do you think about Small Robot Company compared to other agrobotics companies out there? Let us know: [email protected]

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