Equity crowdfunding is a trend we’re watching closely this year. That’s where instead of traditional venture capital, startups let everyday people (with certain restrictions) invest in and receive an actual piece of the company.
Small Robot makes precision agriculture robots that the company hopes will eventually move farmers away from broad chemical spraying of crops and monoculture of plant species in fields. Small Robot has a multi-part, autonomous robot solution it’s building that includes:
- Tom uses cameras and computer vision to precisely map a field of its plants and weeds
- Wilma is the AI that analyzes those images to gather per-plant intelligence and weed identification
- Dick is an autonomous weed zapper that is armed with an electric wand and information from Wilma to precisely electrocute individual weed without the need for chemicals
- The company will eventually add a third robot, Harry, to its lineup that will do no-till drilling.
Small Robot’s “Tom” robots are currently in the working prototype phase, and in use on 20 farms in the UK. The company aims to ramp up production and manufacturing this year and go live on more farms by the end of 2020.
I spoke with Sam Watson Jones, Co-founder, Small Robot Company by phone this week, and he said his ultimate goal is to empower farms with precision agriculture to such a degree that it’s done on a plant-by-plant level. Farmers will know where each individual seed is planted and automate custom care for each plant as it grows. This means reducing fertilizer use, and planting a variety of crops next to each other to limit the spread of crop disease, maintain nitrogen levels and pollinate more efficiently.
To help it get there, Small Robot is turning to the crowd, again. Previously the company received £1.4 million in non-equity funding from a UK government innovation fund, and in 2018 raised £1.2 million in equity crowdfunding through the CrowdCube platform.
On Monday of this week, Small Robot kicked off its second CrowdCube campaign and has already met its goal of raising £700,000. I asked Watson why his company didn’t go with the traditional VC route this time.
“VCs are a bit different in the UK,” he said, “There are very few early stage VCs to fund stuff that requires more development. We knew we had a load of farmers who were excited about what we could develop. ” Crowdfunding, Watson said “allowed us to get angels and people who would put ten quid in. It’s been a good forum for us to capitalize on the branding and PR.”
As with any investment, there are risks involved, and given that this crowdfunding is happening in the UK, there are restrictions around where people can invest from and how much. Check the campaign’s details for more information.
Small Robot Company is actually the second robotics company we’ve covered that has gone the equity crowdfunding app. On the other end of the meal journey is Miso Robotics, the maker of Flippy, which is using SeedInvest to try and raise a $30 million Series C round.
Small Robot will definitely need to beef up its warchest as it looks to expand outside the UK. Other players in the autonomous precision ag and weed-killing robot space include Australia’s Agerris, which raised $6.5 million (AUSD) last year, and U.S.-based Farmwise, which raised $14.5 million in 2019 as well.
For now though, Small Robot Company’s pitch to big crowds for tiny agriculture seems to be attracting big dollars.