Renato Ferraz and José Damico are passionate about making a difference and creating something that can impact positively on society. So, together with their relevant expertise in data analysis, artificial intelligence and management they decided to build a machine that could analyse agricultural information to accurately measure productivity risks and create forecasts, to increase productivity and decrease risk in the agricultural field. And so SciCrop was born. Read on for the full story…

Tell us a bit more about the SciCrop offering

Damico – simply put, SciCrop brings data intelligence into the field. We use data acquisition and real-time analysis in order to accurately measure productivity risks, harvest forecasts and promote agricultural producers’ efficiency.

The company’s purpose is to acquire maximum agricultural information and map those that offer more value. In order to do this we have developed an artificial intelligence system based on scientific research,­ concentrating and analysing large data sets with the help of computer algorithms that provide the best reading and significance determination of the information collected. We have also created IoT devices (Internet of Things) that collect and process information directly from the field.

And where are you currently based?

Renato – We are based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Brazil is one of the biggest agricultural producers in the world, so it’s very strategic for us to be installed here. We are in the process of moving to Campinas, in the countryside, to be closer to the farmers in order to gather a larger user-base for our App. In addition, we are starting conversations with partners in the US and Europe to bring our solution to these places, where AgTech is more disseminated between farmers and other stakeholders.

scicrop screenshots

Where did the idea originally come from?

Damico – We started to work based on a scientific research of a new Machine Learning framework, developed by me when I worked in the R&D Lab of IBM (for DB2 Data Warehouse Solutions) back in 2010. The main purpose of this framework was to make market predictions based on structured and unstructured sets of Big Data. This research was applied into agricultural commodities and the results were impressive and the output data was validated by specialists.

Renato – From this moment, we changed our lives. We were planning for something like this for a long time: a good idea in a market we love and with social impact. So for us it is more than just a venture, it’s a project for our lives. It’s also to prove that it’s possible to create a sustainable solution with a sustainable business. We are talking about making a great social and environmental impact and at the same time monetize it.

Tell us about your target audience and what gap you are filling in the market

Renato – With our technology we can solve the problem of constant incorrect risk analysis in agribusiness. The solution to this problem is essential for farmers, creditors and agricultural insurance providers and for the food industry. These players are looking for technological ways to improve their operations, so it’s easy to work with them. However, when it comes to the farmers themselves, they need to be convinced of the benefits of technology. This is why we are trying to get closer to them and provide free solutions for them, such as our App.

Why is SciCrop unique in this marketplace?

Renato – First of all, our revenue model. Competitors develop services thinking about the farmers, and then charge them for it. They do not think about the entire supply chain. As we have this global strategy, we can monetise through the financial markets that work with commodities and insurance, whilst delivering free solutions to the farmers, helping even the small ones, and integrating all of them to the future of the agriculture.

Beyond our software (which offers more accuracy) we’ve also developed our own hardware – an autonomous lab station and a multispectral drone camera. So one of our main differences is the sensoring of the farms. We have a real solution for digital farms, that acquires real-time data to be analysed through our software. SciCrop is the only one to have developed its own equipment for measuring as well as mixing IoT to big data with a low cost.

How long has it been going?

Damico – We started the business in October 2014. At the time we were just two friends with backgrounds in software, but it was through my previous scientific research at IBM that we realised that we could create something really interesting that could be applied to agriculture, and it just grew from there.

Today we analyse more than 250k data sets per day, and every 3 hours we monitor 2k weather stations in Brazil. We have also prototyped our own agri-station to monitor crops. We are now prepared for the new frontier of agriculture and have already met interested investors in North America, Europe and the Middle-East.

What about funding, did you have any investors?

Renato – We have currently raised US$200k seed investment from two angel investors from Brazil. At the beginning of any initiative it’s really difficult to raise money, even more so in countries like Brazil. For us, however, we had made many connections in the past from previous startups, so we used this network to generate interest. One of these connections introduced us to those investors.

However, at this initial phase of a business, it’s not just about raising money. It’s also about the mentors and advisors you can gather to grow and improve on your idea.

Have you run any other startups prior to this?

Damico – Before starting SciCrop, I built a business called Tix11. This was an innovative technology based on the new generation of Ultrabook’s Intel processors – a revolution for the security in PC online transactions. However in the end, we failed, as the market was not ready for this technology. It was a great learning experience for us and we use it to guide the solutions we create, keeping in mind that many of the farmers are not too familiar with technology.

Let’s talk about your respective work backgrounds. Where were you before starting SciCrop?

Damico – I have 15 years of experience as a software engineer and I implemented the R&D Lab of IBM called DB2 Data Warehouse Solutions. While there I also developed a public scientific research in machine learning that was the base for SciCrop machine learning framework. I also have a passion for information security devices. At TIX11, for instance, I was responsible for a security microcode that was deployed in millions of Intel Processors of the i3, i5 and i7 families, for protection of internet banking transactions. I received some awards from Intel and World Bank Group for this.

Renato – Regarding the strategy, management and business model, I’m in charge. I built my career in the financial market, where I have worked for the most important bank provider in Brazil. After that I got some international working experiences in the US and Europe, where I also completed a Masters degree in France. I have also worked with private equity institutions and advising companies as a M&A advisor. So my career gave me the opportunity to learn how to deal with a venture and how to understand the market.

Do you have any mentors or other business partners?

Damico – Yes. Through our journey we met Jose Kobori, an economist with 30 years of experience, being the CEO of companies and a professor in a very important Brazilian university. He helped us a lot in the beginning to network with investors and how to approach relevant partners. Today he is our partner and every time we need a second opinion, he is the person we count on.

Renato – We also have an important mentor and business partner in Vera Lúcia Santos, who is also our community manager. She has 35 years of experience working with agricultural studies and was a member of the Agriculture Department in Brazil, responsible for crop predictions. She has good experience in understanding the needs of the farmers as well as an extensive network with farmers’ associations and agronomists.

scicrophome

Was there any particular event that inspired you down this startup path?

Damico – Actually, one of the most important events that lead us to this idea was the birth of my first daughter. My wife had to stop working when she was pregnant, having been one of the highest ranked economists for inflation prediction in Brazil. Not wanting to lose her position she asked me if I could invent something that would help her collect this data and allow her to continue her work, even whilst pregnant.

So I decided to use my research from IBM to build a machine to do just that. However in the end it didn’t work for inflation at all, but to my surprise, it was able to predict information regarding food and crops. We tested it again and it predicted all crop shortfalls from the last 10 years with 4 months in advance. So, we realised that we could introduce this technology into agriculture.

That was interesting! What about the most exciting moment to date running SciCrop?

Renato – There were several moments, most of them related to the awards we have won. For instance, the Sustainable Brands award in 2015 has opened interesting doors for us. Another exciting moment was an unexpected invite by the Emir of Kuwait to visit his country and participate in an event to present our venture.

What about the toughest moment?

Damico – First was fundraising, but then the hardest part was trying to convince the farmers that technology can help them. Technology is still an unknown world for most farmers.

Can you recall of any bad decisions that you have made along the way? 

Renato – Not necessarily a bad decision, but in the beginning we had problems focusing on our product. We had a lot of ideas, but sometimes we invested too much time creating hardware and not focusing on our machine learning software. At the time we understood that investor were more likely to choose startups that work with software and services, as hardware development needed a lot of investment for little in return. However we don’t have regrets as our hardware is what makes us.

Let’s talk about SciCrop’s future. What’s your plans?

Damico – Climate change, plagues and farm handling are the most relevant issues responsible for more than 20 billion dollars in losses per year for agriculture. And the family farmers are the most affected by these unpredictable problems.

At the same time these family farmers are responsible for around 80% of all food production in the world and this number is growing. So, in 3 years our product will be a must for every farmer to survive in this ecosystem. We aim to help these farmers at no cost to them for the most part, as well as make partnerships with the most important food industries and crop insures.

And lastly, what would be the one bit of advice that you would offer to someone considering starting their own business?

Renato – Choose something that you love to do, because to succeed you need to dig deep and build your life around your business. And always trust your instincts! It is always important to have a mentor beside you to help with that second opinion. Don’t worry about the money – it is more important is to have traction first.

Damico – It is also important to focus on creating something with impact to society. You need to give a real reason for your business. The world is tired of Apps to take pictures, devices that count your steps, or personal assistants that track your life. We need to make a difference, because the future of our existence counts on it.

Comments

comments