Agribotix seeking up to $3 million

BOULDER – Agribotix LLC is ramping up fundraising efforts as it looks to commercialize its drone-fueled data analysis for the agriculture industry for the 2015 growing season.

Agribotix chairman Wayne Greenberg said Monday that the company will be looking to raise $2 million to $3 million this fall that would ideally get the company through the next 18 to 24 months.

Boulder-based Agribotix equips drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, with cameras that collect infrared images of fields as they fly over scanning for leaf health. Those images are then converted into a map of the field showing where crops are thriving and where they’re struggling. Agribotix analyzes the data and helps farmers decide where they should focus their fertilization efforts, saving money on fertilizer in the long run.

“We’re not in the plane-selling business,” Greenberg said, emphasizing that the focus of the company isn’t on the drones. “We’re in the data and analysis business. That’s where the real value in the company is going to be is making this data actionable.”

Pricing is still being worked out. But Greenberg said the lowest-tier package would likely cost about $5,000, which would include the drone and 10,000 acres of data processing and analysis.

Agribotix has spent the 2014 growing season showing off the system to farmers, crop consultants and co-ops. The company has flown about 30,000 acres this summer in Colorado, California and several states in the Midwest.

As with all commercial enterprises that rely on drones, the venture is a bit of a leap of faith as industry waits to see how FAA regulations will take shape. It’s currently illegal to fly drones for commercial purposes without a certificate of authorization from the government.

Agribotix chief technology officer and cofounder Tom McKinnon said he’s hopeful that exemptions for industries like agriculture, oil and gas, inspection of power lines and film production will be established by the end of the year, though it’s unclear how business-friendly they’ll be.

“Hopefully by the 2015 growing season we can go out and do it within the FAA guidelines,” McKinnon said.

The money Agribotix is seeking to raise would be used for marketing and sales and some product development. Staff like agronomists, a user interface developer, and people who can fly the drones will likely be added to the eight-employee company. While some crop consultants or large farming operations might buy the drones to fly themselves and then contract with Agribotix for the data analysis, Agribotix also expects to fly over fields for customers and collect the data with its own operators.

Agribotix was formed last year as a spinoff of research work done by McKinnon’s InventWorks, and engineering firm in Boulder. InventWorks had been working on a drone-related project for the Denver Zoo, conducting surveys of Argali sheep on a wildlife preserve in the Gobi Desert.

Last summer, McKinnon and InventWorks were also working with Boulder Labs Inc. on potential agricultural applications. As the business ideas evolved, those two eventually went in separate directions, and McKinnon last fall formed Agribotix with Greenberg and Paul Hoff.

Greenberg is a serial entrepreneur with a significant background in the clean tech arena. He is the chief executive of Boulder-based E Source, which advises electric and gas utilities on energy efficiency programs.