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Ag drone maker Skysquirrel raises $3m, merges with VineViewqrcode

Jan. 30, 2018

Favorites Print Jan. 30, 2018

Ag drone maker Skysquirrel raises $3m, merges with VineView

SkySquirrel, a Halifax, Canada-based permanent crop-focused drone company, announced it has raised $3 million in follow-on funding backed by Innovacorp, an existing investor in the company, and an unnamed private investor from Ontario, Canada. The company also has announced its merger with Napa Valley, California-based VineView Inc. to create a new aerial imaging and crop diagnostic company called VineView.

Founded in 2012, SkySquirrel is a data analytics company targeting vineyard operations. The company serves the $85 billion winemaking industry through its flagship product that involves multi-spectral imaging equipment tailored for a drone platform, a cloud-based image-processing service that delivers data to the end-user, and an unmanned aircraft system.

Named one of Canada's top innovative tech companies, SkySquirrel is able to aid commercial vineyards in reducing costs and vine loss, while improving yields through the early detection of aggressive viruses that specifically target vineyards, including leafroll disease and flavescence doree, which often leave a producer no other option but to rip out affected vines before the virus spreads to surrounding plantings.

In business since 2002, VineView similarly provides remote aerial imaging services to vineyard and high-value crop growers throughout California and the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S. The company's specialized mapping products can indicate points of stress, disease, soil issues, and other challenges that can then be remedied via precision agricultural practices.

Following the deal, the merged company will be headquartered out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and will have international operations based out of Napa Valley, California, and through SkySquirrel's French partner Avidordrone, which it acquired late last year, Toulouse, France - two major global wine producing regions. SkySquirrel states that it is currently scaling up Avidodrone's operations in preparation for the 2018 growing season in France.

SkySquirrel founder and CEO, Richard Van der Put, will assume the role of CEO of the new company, while Dr. Matthew Staid, former president of VineView and lead scientist on multiple NASA projects, will serve as VineView's Chief Scientific Officer.

"After working in partnership with Richard and his team for the past few years, we are excited to officially join forces with SkySquirrel and combine our two companies," said Dr. Matthew Staid from his office in St. Helena, California. "Together we will be able to scale globally and offer our customers enhanced data solutions."

Sky High

Once held at arm's distance by agricultural growers, drones have been gaining traction both in terms of adoption and investment dollars.

In the past two years, we've seen Seattle-based MicaSense raise $7.4 million from global drone company Parrot to fund the development of its ag-applicable technologies in February 2016. In May of that same year, Switzerland-based drone-tech startup, Gamaya announced that it had raised CHF3.2 million (US$3.23 million) in a series A round of funding that included Sandoz Foundation, Nestl chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Seed4Equity, and the Swiss venture capital firm VI Partners.

One month later, Sentera LLC, manufacturer of drones and application software for the agricultural sector, closed on an $8.5 million Series A backed by undisclosed agribusiness investors, and one month after that, Slantrange, a leading provider of next-generation agricultural drone technology and analytics systems, announced new distribution partnerships that will expand the company's geographic reach to five continents.

In November 2016, Toronto-based drone data service Deveron UAS announced plans to expand its technology into Western Canada and the Southern U.S., and in June 2017 venture capital firm Gobi Partners led a $7 million funding round for Chinese agricultural drone sharing startup Nongtian Guanjia.

The end of last year saw Nileworks, a Japanese agtech company focused on the development of hyper-precise agricultural spray drones, announce the successful raising of 800 million yen (approximately US$7 million), and an announcement by The Climate Corporation that it had partnered with Canadian full-service drone data company, Deveron, to combine Deveron's aerial imaging capabilities with The Climate Corporation's powerful analytics services through its Climate FieldView digital agriculture platform.

Reflecting a vote of confidence in the technology, in March of last year, Land O'Lakes partnered with HeroX and the University of Minnesota to launch a challenge for tech innovators to develop a complete drone solution - including both hardware and software, for agricultural use.

"We already invest in imagery, and believe there is a lot of potential when combining that with drones, which are a portion of the future of agriculture," Mike Macrie, chief information officer at Land O'Lakes, told GAI News in March of last year. " We are launching the challenge to encourage the drone marketplace to develop something that the farmer can benefit from."


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