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Naspers invests R100m in agritech start-up Aerobotics

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 20 May 2020
Naspers SA CEO Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa.
Naspers SA CEO Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa.

Naspers has announced a R100 million investment in agritech business Aerobotics, through its early stage business funding initiative Naspers Foundry.

Aerobotics is a subscription-based artificial intelligence company that provides intelligent tools for the agricultural industry to manage its crops.

Founded by James Paterson and Benji Meltzer in 2014, Aerobotics specialises  in the application of artificial intelligence in agriculture.

In May last year, ITWeb reported that Aerobotics was setting up an online drone marketplace after receiving $2 million funding from local venture capital firm Paper Plane Ventures.

The latest funding follows a $2 million series A funding round in 2018, led by Nedbank and joined by US-based Agfunder and US angel investor Joe Caruso, among others.

Aerobotics recently expanded to the US and has two business development managers on the ground in Los Angeles working with 10 000 acres of crops.

The company says its US-based staff is expected to grow to eight by the end of 2019 and will be based around areas where there are high concentrations of tree and vine crops.

In a statement, Naspers says the insights Aerobotics provides to its clients include tree counts, the identification of missing trees, and the size and health of trees.

The company has progressed its technology to engineer fruit counts, and provide data on fruit size and colour.

Farmers use the intelligence to manage their farms, trees and fruit more efficiently. Aerobotics delivers the insights through its proprietary Aeroview platform and Aeroview InField mobile app.

James Paterson, Aerobotics co-founder and CEO, says: “The intersection of agriculture and technology has always been my passion and it has been incredible to work with a talented team, and leading agricultural groups, to contribute towards the future of agriculture. We are proud to be building quality technology in South Africa and delivering it to customers around the world.

“Our journey is only just beginning, but already Aerobotics has demonstrated success in our ability to collect and analyse tree and fruit-level information, which are critical to the agricultural industry. We have seen great support from commercial-scale farmers and, more recently, crop insurance companies in the US who require accurate tree-level information about their clients.

“We are excited to have Naspers as a partner, bringing proven skills in building global technology companies together with the capital required to continue building for, and with, the agricultural industry.”

Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa, CEO South Africa of Naspers, says: “Food security is of paramount importance in South Africa, and the Aerobotics platform provides a positive contribution towards helping to sustain it.

“This importance has been highlighted further in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with agriculture considered globally as critical infrastructure. This young, all South African team has produced a world-class technology solution in South Africa and has also successfully entered the US market where they are gaining momentum. This type of tech innovation addresses societal challenges, and is exactly the type of early-stage company that Naspers Foundry looks to back."

The investment is pending approval by local authorities.

Naspers Foundry, which was announced at the end of 2018, is a R1.4 billion initiative aimed at strengthening the South African technology sector by providing funding to talented and ambitious technology founders and entrepreneurs.

Last year, the initiative invested R30 million in online home cleaning services business SweepSouth. Naspers Foundry backs talented local technology founders building businesses that improve people’s daily lives and show great potential to scale.