Agtech startup Muddy Machines, a StartLife alumn, today announced a new round of series seed funding of 1.8M euro. The new funding will allow the company to enhance the development of its harvesting robots that support zero emissions and solve labor issues in the agriculture industry.
The funding round was led by Regenerate Ventures with participation from Ponderosa Ventures, Jude Gomilla and Thrive/SVG Ventures and numerous others. “We were impressed by Muddy Machine’s vision and speed of technical development.”, says Paul Rous, MD at Regenerate Ventures. “Fixing labor issues in farming is essential for ensuring a sustainable domestic food supply in developed countries and reducing food miles.”, added Evi Steyer, MD at Ponderosa Ventures.
Florian Richter, CEO and co-founder at Muddy Machines, stipulates that raising money for agtech and hardware businesses is a challenge at the best of times. “We are extremely proud to have secured this fund raise in the current investment climate. We will now focus on creating a meaningful amount of harvest capacity for our customers.” The situation is desperate.“, said John Chinn of Cobrey Farms, the largest growers of asparagus in the United Kingdom.
This new funding will be used to strengthen the company’s engineering team and build suﬃcient runway while demonstrating product market ﬁt. Speciﬁcally, the areas that the company will focus on are:
Building a small herd of its Sprout robots for the 2023 asparagus harvest season and generating initial revenues,
Continuing with the development of new crop harvest capabilities and
Developing a roadmap for scaling production of Sprout robots.
Muddy Machines was founded in 2020 by Christopher Chavasse and Florian Richter with a vision to sustainably solve labor issues in farming with robots. They developed a robotic platform that is capable of deploying a variety of harvest tools in specialty ﬁeld corps. In Fall 2021, they took part in the StartLife Accelerate program. The company has won nearly €3M in grant funding.
p.s. Stay up to date with the latest news about and for agrifood startups, scale-ups and more via StartLife’s Linkedin or Twitter account or via the StartLife newsletter (8x a year).
On 23 June, a cohort of nine early-stage startups graduated from StartLife’s latest acceleration program and are now raring up to tackle global issues across the agrifood domain. StartLife also announced the launch of a new program: StartLife à la Carte.
On the graduation day, StartLife’s managing director Jan Meiling spotlighted the urgency of innovation in the agrifood space. “Two weeks ago, there was a message to the world that we’re not going to meet our climate goals,” he stated. Nonetheless, a more sustainable food system would play a crucial role in addressing this. “Therefore, we need to speed up innovation. Even if we’re just a small part of a complicated puzzle, we need to take responsibility,” Meiling urged.
From alternative proteins to waste reduction and more effective agriculture, this cohort’s startups all offer innovative means of addressing these vital questions.
Bringing goals into focus
StartLife’s acceleration program graduates highlight the connections they have gained over the last few months.
The startups flagged StartLife’s help in terms of structure. “We learned how to handle business and investment strategies and validate the market, for example,” explains Saptarshi Mukhopadhya, Development Manager at InsectSense, which has developed a biochip that mimics insects’ extremely sensitive sense of smell.
For Upstream Foods, which is developing cell-based fish fat, co-founder Kianti Figler says that each of StartLife’s coaches brings decades of experience that is crucial to young entrepreneurs. “We have the vision, the drive, the ambition, but to plug into that experience is great for us.”
The co-founders of Upstream Foods also agree that structure has been a key aspect of the program. “We were given an ecosystem of support that helped us grow and prioritize our focuses,” says Figler.
Everyone on the Upstream Foods team has a biotech background. They have found that the food space has a completely different culture and rhythm. “Understanding that space and market, plus getting connected with industry professionals, was very valuable for us,” Figler continues.
For Naturanova, the Chile-based company behind a computational peptide discovery platform, StartLife gave key advice about the EU’s regulatory scene:
“We’re working with companies from Europe that are also established in the US and Latin America because there are regulatory challenges that we are figuring out,” says co-founder Antonella De Lazzari.
“A key part of the program that helped me both personally and the company as a whole is networking,” says Mukhopadhyay. “StartLife has an extensive network in the agrifood domain, which adds a lot of value for both market validation and business opportunities. This helps understand the exact problem that is in the market, as well as potentially converting it into a business opportunity,” he continues.
For the Germany-based Organifarms, the StartLife program was very beneficial for understanding the Dutch market for farm robots and helped it gain local contacts.
“We had some early contacts, but StartLife gave us a better understanding of the market to scale up and be successful here in the Netherlands,” says CEO and co-founder Dominik Feiden. One example is connecting Organifarms with different banks to help finance equipment.
What’s coming next?
The startups are now fizzing with energy for their next steps. Upstream Foods has recently raised pre-seed funding and is now stepping into the lab to develop a proof of concept. “Our seed round will probably take place around 18 months from now, so we’re casually talking with investors to understand what it is they value,” adds Figler.
Naturannova is also at a very different stage after working with StartLife. “We can now prove high traction for our team. We’ve got a lot of homework to do with exciting challenges ahead,” says De Lazzari.
Meanwhile, InsectSense is speaking with investors to see which will align best with its strategy: “We’ve also learned that success is not just about external activities, like validation and strategy. It’s also about product development, because unless you have that, nothing else matters. Now we’re focused on real tangible product development,” explains Mukhopadhyay.
Finally, Organifarms is celebrating the release of its product demonstration video and is now carrying out pilot customer trials: “We’re showing how it works – we can prove that we’re not just talking and actually can deliver. Then we will bring the first units onto the market,” details Feiden.
Among the other graduating startups are NoA Biosciences, Gaia Tech, Lite+Fog, Groam and Next Probiotics. More information about the cohort can be found here. You can view the complete recording of StartLife’s Accelerate Spring 2022 Graduation Day below.
"The next cohort of the StartLife Accelerate program will start in September, with applications open until 19 July. Want to join? Check the StartLife Accelerate page.
Introducing “StartLife à la Carte”
The graduation day also unveiled StartLife’s latest program: StartLife à la Carte. It will allow startups to access the support they need on a fully tailored level. Informally, the support has been in place for some time already but has been kept under wraps until now.
Each year, StartLife takes up to 40 new startups under its wing. While around half enter its acceleration program each spring and fall, personalized tailored support is also given to about 10 to 20 individual startups throughout the year.
“Although I had fun referring to our ‘secret program’ when talking to startups, it made more sense to also get this program out in the open,” says Bram van Beek, StartLife’s Marketing & Communications Manager.
Loet Rammelsberg, StartLife’s Program Director adds that making connections is a central focus within the program.
“In the end, connections are what matters most – and that’s why most startups don’t make it. They might end up building something that nobody needs. There’s a nice combination in connecting investor and corporate feedback with the new technology startups bring to the table,” he details.
p.s. Stay up to date with the latest news about and for agrifood startups, scale-ups and more via StartLife’s Linkedin or Twitter account and/or via the StartLife newsletter (8x a year).
StartLife has selected nine new (very) early-stage startups to join its eighth acceleration program this spring. The startups have been selected for their promising technological solutions to tackling global agrifood challenges, including sustainable farming, food waste prevention and the protein transition.
The startups selected will enter StartLife’s 3-month acceleration program, which is entirely dedicated to guiding foodtech and agtech startups in validating their business, raising funding and accelerating their impact. Loet Rammelsberg, StartLife’s program director, is excited to start StartLife’s eighth cohort, which will have some extra challenges.
Rammelsberg, “Though StartLife’s acceleration program is already fully tailored to early-stage agrifoodtech startups, this cohort includes numerous very early-stage startups. The companies and their technologies are, so to speak, yet to be born. However, considering their highly promising solutions and the great teams, we are confident as to the potential impact and their chances for success.”
Smart, sustainable food and ag technologies
For its spring 2022 program, StartLife received a record number of applications from startups all over the world. For the first time ever, even from five continents. Rammelsberg, “This underlines the fact that worldwide a growing number of entrepreneurial talents are dedicated to providing novel solutions that tackle our global challenges in food and agriculture.”
The following startups, including StartLife’s very first Latin-American startup, are fortunate to be accepted into the acceleration program. And StartLife is proud to have them onboard and to be working with them.
Naturannova (Chile)– plant protein discovery platform for the design of tailor-made ingredients
NoA Biosciences (Netherlands)– Fermentation of woody biomass into alternative protein for feed and food
Upstream Foods (Netherlands) – Animal-free, cell-based fish fat to improve plant-based protein
Gaia Tech (Switzerland) – Valorization of high-value food, feed and pharmaceutical ingredients from olive oil by-products
Organifarms(Germany) – farming robots for indoor farms, starting with a strawberry harvester
Lite+Fog (Germany)– Novel vertical farming setup using fogponics and textile-based technology
Agbio & Biobased tech
Groam(Switzerland)– Provider of sustainable foamed biomaterials
InsectSense (Netherlands) – Insect-behavioral based technological solutions
Next Probiotics (Israel) – Technology enabling the growing of vegetables and fruits rich in probiotics
Join StartLife’s virtual Demo Day on 23 June
In the coming months, the startups will sharpen their business case, improve their technologies and prepare for (further) investments.
On June 23rd, the startups will conclude the program with a live (virtual) presentation to a global audience of investors, corporates, partners and other agrifoodtech enthusiasts. Those who are interested in joining the Graduation Day (Demo Day), in person in Wageningen or online, can register here or via the form below. All people registered will automatically have access to the online streaming and the recordings that become available after the event.
In Person Venue
Wageningen Campus | Plus Ultra II Building
6708 WH Wageningen
Food production can go hand in hand with removing CO2 from the atmosphere and fixing it in the soil, and if financial incentives are in place farmers can be encouraged to perform this carbon sequestration. It’s known as “carbon farming” and it has the potential to deliver a new green revolution. But farmers do need to be able to show how much CO2 they are capturing. Data technologies and specific self-learning models (machine learning) will play an important role in this.
A “deep-dive” session organized by the Wageningen startup accelerator StartLife revealed that these smart, self-learning models are already emerging. The session brought together scientists from Wageningen University & Research, representatives from Rabobank and two startups – EnvirometriX and Spatialise – to brainstorm about this topic.
What does carbon farming actually mean? It’s a production method by means of which agricultural businesses maximize CO2 (carbon) sequestration from the atmosphere into the soil. Carbon ends up in crop roots, crop residues (organic matter) in the soil and embedded in healthy soil life.
Carbon farming occurs when the level of carbon sequestration is greater than the degree emitted. But maximizing carbon sequestration does not automatically translate into a big financial return. The idea, therefore, is that farmers ought to be rewarded for the carbon they capture.
Turning emitters into sequestrators
This could be done by providing them with carbon credits that can be traded. Buyers can become CO2-neutral and sellers can turn their sustainable management into a new revenue stream.
“Globally, the food and agriculture sector is a net emitter and, depending on how you calculate it, responsible for 25 to 35 percent of carbon emissions. But it’s also one of the few sectors capable of transitioning from being a net emitter into a net sequestrator. Isn’t that great?” says Kim van der Leeuw at Rabo Carbon Bank, a division of Rabobank which is developing financing based on carbon credits.
This is currently already being done on a voluntary basis. The further development of the carbon credits system now depends on the availability of reliable and practical methods for quantifying how much carbon has been sequestered.
Smart data technology as a catalyst
In theory, this can be done by regularly taking soil samples and analyzing them. But that’s laborious, impractical and expensive. The solution lies in the use of smart data technology. Two startups based in Wageningen – EnvirometriX and Spatialise – are working hard on this. They’re combining geographical data with remote sensing (satellite observations) and local data, such as the results of soil analysis and yield figures. They’re also working on machine-learning models that can measure and analyze carbon sequestration, and do so remotely, continuously and fully automatically.
“The system learns to make connections so that it can eventually come to reliable conclusions based on widely available data, such as satellite images.” ~ Soufiane el Khinifri, Spatialise
Their models are still being developed and need to be fed with as much data as possible to make them more accurate, including satellite images, data on how much carbon has been sequestered in the soil and the agricultural methods being used.
“The system learns to make connections so that it can eventually come to reliable conclusions based on widely available data, such as satellite images. Because it’s a self-learning system, future users won’t need to supply nearly as much data,” says Soufiane el Khinifri, a graduate of Geo-Information Science at Wageningen University.
El Khinifri launched Spatialise last year together with Peter Piontek and fellow student Niels Janssens. One of the areas they’re focusing on is farmers in developing countries.
“Here in the Netherlands, we’re trying to improve the margins for carbon farming, but in developing countries farmers could reap the rewards immediately,” says El Khinifri. “Small-scale farmers in Africa have a relatively low income per hectare. They would really benefit from a carbon- farming premium.”
Optimizing carbon sequestration
Quantifying carbon sequestration in order to reward farmers is not the only potential application. According to Ichsani Wheeler, who was awarded a PhD on this topic, farmers can also use the data to actually increase the extent of carbon sequestration.
Wheeler, originally from Australia, and Tomislav Hengl, from the Netherlands, are the co-founders of EnvirometriX, which helps businesses and other organizations improve their management of natural resources. Their objective is to use smart systems to help farmers with the sustainable management of their operations.
“We want to use machine learning to create a system that recognizes data, combines it and translates it into usable information. The aim is to enable farmers to monitor the progress of their business and use our data to make better management decisions. We want to offer a kind of barometer tool,” she says.
Creating a new green revolution
“Carbon farming has the potential to drive a new green revolution.” ~ Ichsani Wheeler, EnvirometriX
“Carbon farming has the potential to drive a new green revolution,” says Wheeler. “ The need for it is urgent. We can see a visible decline in soil quality and in ecosystems. They need to be restored. As a society, we need not only a food production system but also ecosystem services, such as clean water, attractive landscapes, biodiversity, etc..”
Carbon sequestration can also be an important indicator for valuing and rewarding these ecosystem services, says research associate Fenny van Egmond, one of the Wageningen researchers who took part in the deep dive. “The economic reality is that intensive, highly productive agricultural systems deliver greater yields per hectare in the short term. If you want farmers to provide ecosystem services, you have to put a revenue model in place.”
“You need each other”
Van Egmond is a research associate in soil sensing at Wageningen Environmental Research and at ISRIC – World Soil Information. According to her, the science – the data research, methods such as machine learning and carbon farming technologies – dovetails nicely with what the startups are doing.
“We’re working toward the same goal. Scientists are researching the impact of different agricultural methods on carbon sequestration as well as the kinds of methods that deliver the best yields across the board. They’re also contributing to the development of new measurement systems, and ways of using and combining other kinds of data available to us. Startups can focus more on the application in a practical product and on the business perspective. An organization like Rabobank has a very specific financial role to play. We all need each other.”
Joined deep dive
That’s exactly why StartLife has brought these different stakeholders together, says Laura Thissen, Operations Director at StartLife. “The participants shared their knowledge with each other and considered the same problem from different perspectives, giving them all new insights into the application of particular methodologies or into data sources they weren’t familiar with. That’s a win. It’s why we bring stakeholders together. It’s so they can learn from each other’s knowledge and experience, and work together on next steps, for example in relation to standardization and data collection from farmers.”
“"Collaboration is essential when it comes to a complex issue like measuring carbon sequestration in the soil.” ~ Laura Thissen, StartLife
Niels Snoep, Innovation Manager SME & Corporates at Rabobank, agrees: “Each stakeholder provided added value so that we collectively accelerated. It’s a great example of how open innovation delivers added value, thanks to our partnership with StartLife.”
First payments made to farmers for carbon credits
Shortly after the deep-dive session, Rabo Carbon Bank announced the launch of a pilot in which dairy farmers will be paid for carbon credits. It’s the carbon bank’s first trial on Dutch soil and will last for three years. A pilot aimed at arable farmers has also been launched in the USA.
p.s. Stay up to date with the latest news about and for agrifood startups, scale-ups and more via StartLife’s Linkedin or Twitter account or via the StartLife newsletter (8x a year).
Today, Muddy Machines, a UK agtech startup, announced that they have successfully developed a prototype robotic harvester for green asparagus, which they’ve named “Sprout”. Working closely with Cobrey Farms, the largest asparagus grower in the UK, Muddy Machines company has spent the last year developing and testing their machine on-farm.
Farms require a high volume of seasonal workers for a variety of tasks, primarily for weeding and harvesting. Asparagus is one of the most labor intensive crops as the harvesting occurs daily throughout the 12 week season. Picking asparagus is among the hardest and most backache-causing activities in farming, make it also hard to find workers to do the harvesting. Although green asparagus is a relatively small volume crop, Muddy Machines believes that it is most suited for robotic harvesting and is an excellent starting point before developing harvesters for more challenging crops.
Intelligent harvesting robot
That Sprout is a smart robot shows from the moment it leaves the farmer’s shed. The robot finds its way to the asparagus fields fully autonomously. Once arrived at the harvest field, it uses the latest in deep learning technology to detect and delicately pick asparagus spears according to grower’s specifications. The robot only picks mature spears, works in weeds and can even detect and harvest spears that are crooked, curved or malformed. The robot is lightweight and fully electric, avoiding damaging soil compaction and enabling a green, sustainable and resilient future for agriculture. To top it all off, the robot doesn’t experience any back pains.
Seeking additional funding
Muddy Machines was founded by Florian Richter (left) and Christopher Chavasse (right) amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and the urgent request from growers to find a solution to their labor supply challenges. The company is backed by various venture funds, business angels and has won several Innovate UK grants. The startup is now seeking additional funding to bring an initial batch of robots to market in 2022.
Florian and Christopher currently take part in the fall 2021 edition of StartLife Accelerate. If you like to view Muddy Machines’ live pitch, you can register for StartLife’s (virtual) Graduation Day, on 9 December 2022.
For the fifth year in a row StartLife is one of the leading organizers of the international agrifood event F&A Next. Together with Foodbytes! by Rabobank eight most promising startups have been selected as this years’ ‘Next Heroes in Food & AgTech’. On May 13, they will pitch their innovations during a (free) live webinar of F&A Next to an international audience of agrifood investors, corporates, media and fellow entrepreneurs.
The eight startups were selected from a record number of applications. The applications came from 29 countries, from Sweden to Australia and from Hong Kong to the United States. Most solutions were in machine learning (28%), artificial intelligence (25%) and digital platforms (23%).
Next Heroes in FoodTech 2020
The following four startups have been selected as the F&A Next ‘Next Heroes in FoodTech 2020’. Join the live webinar to view their pitches.
FUMI Ingredients(The Netherlands) : Develops functional food ingredients from microorganisms. The novel animal-free ingredients work as egg replacers and have no allergens. The production process allows a carbon footprint reduction of over 90% compared to conventional egg-white production.
Connecting Food(France) : Tracks and digitally audits food products in real-time from farm to fork. The blockchain solution maps food supply chains and improve internal traceability. They also help brands and retailers improve their external transparency via a QR code & storytelling.
COGZ(UK) : Offers a B2B online marketplace for food & beverage manufacturers and processors to buy surplus produce directly from farmers and growers. COGZ’s technology saves time, increases profitability and prevents food waste in primary production.
Verdify(The Netherlands) : Enables companies active in the food domain to personalize their recipes for individual customers, supporting prevention and treatment of chronic diseases. Their digital platform fully personalizes meal recipes according to guideline-based medical diets, biomarkers and individual preferences.
Next Heroes in AgTech 2020
The following four startups have been selected as the F&A Next ‘Next Heroes in AgTech 2020’. Join the live webinar to view their pitches.
Evologic Technologies(Austria) : Produces microbial bioactives (biostimulants and biopesticides) for seed distributors, thanks to its proprietary production platform technology. This allows distributors sell an upgraded product to farmers.
Pebble Labs(USA) : Develops solutions to safely and sustainably increase natural crop yield and food security. Its mission is to develop breakthrough disruptive technologies that address the greatest agricultural, aquaculture, and environmental challenges facing the globe.
FarmRaise(USA) : Unlocks public and private funding for farmers through cataloguing each grower’s unique options and simplifying the funding application process. FarmRaise makes it easy for farmers to invest in their operations today and steward their assets for future generations.
Edete(Israel) : Offers a high-efficiency artificial pollination service solution for companies and growers. By reducing the deficiencies of erratic and dwindling insect-based pollination, Edete’s controlled and manageable solution has been proven to increase the yield of almond orchards.
Impact of the Coronavirus on the agrifood industry
F&A Next normally is a 2-day in-person event taking place in Wageningen (NL). Due to the Coronavirus pandemic the event is going digital, offering a live webinar on May 13th for free. For obvious reasons the impact of the Coronavirus on the agrifood industry has become a main theme. Top executives and opinion leaders discuss the impact of the Coronavirus crisis on business and consumer behavior. A panel of global investors will openly discuss if and how the current crisis affects investment decisions. And the above eight startups will pitch their innovations.
Join F&A Next Live Webinar for free
Registration is open to agrifood investors, corporates, media and fellow startups. Check the full webinar program here.