Naspers backs SA agritech with investment in Aerobotics

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The future of farming and agriculture is here with Aerobotics.
The future of farming and agriculture is here with Aerobotics.

Aerobotics, a Cape Town-based agritech company, has been given a $17 million investment boost to take its smart, artificial intelligence tools to the agriculture industry at scale.

The company has raised $17 million in a Series B fundraising round, led by global internet group and one of the largest technology investors in the world, Naspers, who led the funding round with a R100 million investment through its tech investment arm Naspers Foundry.

Aerobotics is a subscription-based platform that provides tree crop health and yield intelligence data to the agricultural industry using drone and satellite-enabled AI technology.

The company, founded by James Paterson and Benji Meltzer in 2014, uses aerial imagery from satellites and drone flights together with machine learning algorithms to collect crucial data for farmers.

Naspers Foundry, a R1.4 billion funding vehicle, seeks opportunities in South African-based for-profit, technology-driven products and services. 

Revenue growth

In a statement on its website, Aerobotics says it has experienced record growth over the last few years, servicing farmers in more than a dozen countries, including the USA and Australia.

"In the United States alone, the company’s revenue has grown in excess of an order of magnitude. The Series B investment will further technology development and product delivery in the United States and Aerobotics’ other core territories,” the statement read.

Its CEO, James Paterson, said they were looking forward to co-developing products with the industry further following the second round of investments.

"Thank you to our customers for believing in our vision and to our investors for backing us. We’re committed to providing intelligent tools to optimise automation, minimise inputs and maximise production," Paterson said.

Other investors include Platform Investment Partners, FMO: Entrepreneurial Development Bank and Cathay AfricInvest Innovation, the company said.

In previous investment rounds, Aerobotics raised $600 000 from various companies during its seed round in 2017, and a further $4 million in its Series A round in 2019, according to TechCrunch.

'World-class technology'

Using the data collected, Aerobotics' web-based platform, Aeroview, uses consolidated analytics and a functional app to allow farmers to calculate the number of trees, inspect the data on their crops’ health or detect early-stage diseases or pest infestation.

Speaking on the investment in May 2020, Naspers SA CEO Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa said food security was of paramount significance in South Africa, and the Aerobotics platform provided a positive contribution towards sustaining it.

"This importance has been highlighted further in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, with agriculture considered globally as critical infrastructure," Mahanyele Dabengwa said.

"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 kind of early-stage company that Naspers Foundry looks to back."

Speaking to Financial Mail in February, head of Naspers Foundry Fabian Whate said while IPOs were not the usual route for SA tech companies, fintech businesses continue to attract the most investment, followed by B2B services.

"Anecdotally, I'd say the opportunity, especially for scale, in insurance is attractive," he told the publication.

Naspers Foundry is a R1.4 billion vehicle aimed at strengthening the South African technology sector by providing funding to talented and ambitious technology founders and entrepreneurs. Including Aerobotics, it has invested approximately R200 million in three other early-stage tech companies.

The first was SweepSouth, an online home cleaning services business that connects homeowners and domestic cleaners.

The Food Supply Network, a fully automated independent B2B marketplace that integrates food ordering system of manufacturers, distributors/wholesalers and buyers (hotels, restaurants, etc.) across the food-service industry.

The Student Hub, an online platform facilitating undergraduate tertiary education. By partnering with government accredited Technical and Vocational Education and Training ("TVET") colleges in South Africa, The Student Hub overcomes the admissions limitations of physical infrastructure and related resource constraints.

This post is sponsored by Naspers and created by BrandStudio24 for News24.

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