Agriculture technology startup Bear Flag Robotics is developing autonomous technology for farm tractors that enables growers to increase productivity and improve safety on their farms.
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Growers are trying to increase productivity, but at the same time, are facing rising costs, limited resources — such as labor — and climate change, Igino Cafiero, Bear Flag co-founder, told Crunchbase News.
“There is a myth in farming that there is an unlimited supply of labor outside the farm ready to go at any moment, and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “Our mission is to increase global food production and reduce the cost of growing food through machine automation. In addition, the leading cause of death on farms is tractor rollovers, so we are removing people from hazardous environments.”
Two years after a $4.6 million seed round, led by True Ventures, the Sunnyvale, California-based company is announcing a $7.9 million seed extension, also led by True Ventures. The firm was joined by Graphene Ventures, AgFunder, D20 and Green Cow VC. Including this round of funding, the company has raised $12.5 million total since Cafiero and Aubrey Donnellan co-founded the company in 2017.
Agricultural technology, commonly known as “agtech” or “agritech,” has exploded over the past five years. Since 2015, venture capitalists invested some $15.7 billion in global agtech startups, with investments peaking at $4 billion in both 2018 and 2019, and 2020 not far behind with $2.6 billion as of August, according to Crunchbase data.
Meanwhile, before this raise, Bear Flag was working on iterations of its technology, services and support for autonomous tractor operations. Human supervisors use the company’s software to monitor and move the fleet of tractors from either a control room or personal device. The software itself gathers data on field patterns to provide predictive analytics that helps growers better plan each season.
The new funding will enable the company to increase its fleet of tractors and grow its engineering team. Tractors can either be bought or rented, with Bear Flag charging for the technology per acre, Cafiero said.
The company is currently working with the largest produce and commodity growers in California and Arizona. Bear Flag will be going into a second season with many of them, which will enable the company to provide more factors that will affect increased output, he said.
Although he did not disclose growth figures, Cafiero confirmed that the company is seeing “exceptional growth.” Next up, Bear Flag will continue to expand operations and work with growers.
“In terms of experimentation, 2020 was a big year for us,” he said. “We’ve now started to get into the production environment and are helping farmers grow the food that people are eating.”
What investors have to say
Rohit Sharma, partner at True Ventures, said in an interview that he grew up on a family farm in India, learning to drive a tractor before a car.
The self-driving technology is of particular interest to Sharma. True Ventures has five other investments in the space of robotics and automation, but the farming market is different, and he thinks Bear Flag has a unique way of delivering to the market.
He met Bear Flag’s founders through a mutual friend just as the company was going into Y Combinator in 2018. He drove to Sunnyvale and ended up hanging out with them in their garage.
“We disagreed on everything but the problem,” Sharma recalls. “The meeting was supposed to be 30 minutes, but it ended up being three hours. When they raised money we got into a discussion about the investment opportunity.”
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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