While Saskatchewan is a mainstay in agriculture—supplying the world with quality agricultural commodities—the way in which those commodities are produced is changing dramatically. As a world-leading agricultural centre, the province is uniquely positioned to disrupt the industry in a major way. There are people and companies in Saskatchewan working on projects that will change everything from what we grow, how we grow it, how we process it, and how we get it to market. Innovation Saskatchewan is a player in this disruption revolution, supporting the people with the ideas that will elevate agriculture in ways we have never seen before.
Meet a Disruptor.
Daniel McCann is the CEO of Agtech startup Precision.AI. Dan and his co-founder developed artificial intelligence (AI) software that could easily identify plants and had an idea on how this technology could be applied to the agriculture sector. The idea was simple—use AI to identify weeds growing in fields and use that data to strategically drop herbicide to eliminate weeds while avoiding the crop. The AI technology could attach to a drone or existing sprayer, and because of its precision it could also drastically reduce the amount of herbicide needed for the job. It sounded like a great idea. However, bringing the technology to life was not going to be easy.
McCann knew he had a viable idea, and now he needed the capital to build a prototype to test it. If it worked, the technology would turn conventional herbicide application on its head for the entire Canadian ag sector. He knew he was going to need financial help in a big way. “Innovation in Agtech—unlike other areas with the tech sector—is very capital intensive,” says McCann. “You have to develop software and hardware, create prototypes, and then conduct field trials to test the idea. Plus, Saskatchewan has one growing season per year which means you have one shot per year to get it right.”
Find the Money.
Private investment in the Agtech startup stage is incredibly difficult to attract in the best of times, and McCann knew his company’s vision for its product and the market was particularly audacious. He looked for programs that could help fund the next step and turned to Innovation Saskatchewan’s Agtech Growth Fund. The fund is designed to assist research and development that can lead to the commercialization of technology innovations for the province’s agriculture sector. McCann applied for funding with Innovation Saskatchewan and Precision.AI was accepted.
“The grant we received from the Agtech Growth Fund allowed us to complete work on our prototype,” says McCann. “From there, we were able to not only test our idea but also attract more investment as we became successful.” Precision.AI conducted successful field trials in 2020 and is lined up for more trials in 2021.
See the Future.
In 2020, Precision.AI became part of a $26.2 million project with Sure Growth Solutions Inc., Exceed Grain Marketing, the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) and Protein Industries Canada to help develop and commercialize the technology. In February 2021, the company also received further funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada to get the technology from the concept stage and into the market.
While Precision.AI grows and attracts the capital needed to develop its technology, it credits Innovation Saskatchewan for the boost when it needed it most. “We would not be here today without the initial funding from the Agtech Growth Fund,” says McCann. “Innovation Saskatchewan is essential to not only our success, but to the sector. They bridge the innovation gap, and they are integral to getting early success with tech and innovation ideas.”
Beyond the Agtech Growth Fund, Innovation Saskatchewan is entering new territory with the impending launch of an Agtech venture capital (VC) fund. In the final stages of selecting a fund manager, the government is making a $15 million commitment to the fund that will leverage millions more from private investors. Innovation Saskatchewan will invest $3 million per year over four years into provincial Agtech companies that require capital to scale operations and manufacturing and beyond the startup phase. “Saskatchewan has lagged behind other jurisdictions when it comes to VC,” says Kari Harvey, Innovation Saskatchewan’s CEO. “While we have seen improvements, Agtech is still a space that needs capital investment. Similar funds in other provinces have seen success in spurring tech investments. This fund will cultivate growth in the provincial Agtech sector—a sector growing exponentially, and exceptionally suited for Saskatchewan where agriculture is a major economic engine.”
To learn more about Innovation Saskatchewan, visit innovationsaskatchewan.ca.