15.05.2023 - Bioeconomy, Innovation, Technology

WeedBot raises €425 000

In its latest investment round, WeedBot, the high-precision laser weeding technology startup, has raised €425 000 to fund the production of its first commercial machine. 

The prototypes developed so far were intended more for testing individual elements in the field wheras the new commercial version will enable WeedBot to perform real demos of the product in customers’ own fields. WeedBot co-founder Jānis Jaško shares that major organic carrot growers from France, Germany, Austria and the UK have already signed up to test the commercial machine.

Alongside manufacturing the commercial machine, the company is also preparing to raise further funding.

“We plan that after successful tests with farmers, we will need capital to scale up production. We’re also in talks with potential industrial partners to make use of their production capacity,” says Jaško.

To date, Weedbot has raised €400 000 from business angels in Latvia and the UK in several funding rounds. The company has also embraced the support instruments offered by Latvia’s Law on Support for Start-ups.

International pool of investors

Both existing and new investors have contributed to this round. The main investor is the Latvia-based Overkill Ventures, together with its Danish partners Accelerace, joined by several angel investors and a UK-based vegetable seed breeding and production company.

“We were attracted by the Weedbot team’s original insight into the problems that farmers are facing, their ability to execute and the potential for a far reaching impact of their product,” says David Ventzel, General Partner at Accelerace. 

The fund has previously invested in Latvia’s Kedeon and Vigo Health, and is on the lookout for more local investment opportunities. 

Tough times for attracting investment

The last year has been a turbulent one in the world of startups and investment, with the global economy shaken by Russia’s war in Ukraine. As a consequence, the startup environment has seen less investment. When asked how to go about attracting investment in these times, Jaško shares that, having spoken to other startups in the sector, he learned that many have struggled in the past year.

“In the middle of last year, it seemed that investor activity was starting to return, but data for the first quarter of this year show that investor activity around the globe still remains low compared to 2021,” says Jaško.

In addition, equipment manufacturing is not the most desirable sector from an investor perspective. They still prefer business software development, he says. “We can’t directly influence these things, so it’s not worth getting too upset about it. But it’s definitely something to be aware of and take into account in order to properly plan how much time and resources will be needed to complete the investment round,” Jaško emphasises.

Carrots for now but other crops to follow

WeedBot’s solution uses a concentrated light or laser beam to kill weeds. It looks like a typical agricultural machine and connects to the rear of the tractor. For now, the machine is tailored to weeding carrots. The idea is that, as the AI continues to be trained, its use could be extended to other similar crops like lettuce, beetroots and onions.

“To ‘catch’ the weeds, we’ve trained the AI to recognise what a carrot looks like at different stages of growth. The rest of the plants are treated with a laser beam. The weed is heated from the inside and dies completely or is so badly damaged that it takes a week to recover,” Jaško shares.

Jaško and colleagues came up with the idea while working on a research project at university, investigating how to use lasers to control weeds. To ensure that the results didn’t just stay on the shelf gathering dust, they decided to continue their work by going the commercial route.

Currently, WeedBot’s laser weeder runs at speeds of up to 1.2 kilometres per hour, which is up to five times faster than weeding by hand. Last year, the company ran a trial on partners’ fields in the Bordeaux region of France. Customers are queuing up.

Author: Lelde Beņķe, Anda Asere (www.labsoflatvia.com).
Publicity photo

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