Swiss scaleup Ecorobotix gears up for further European expansion
After securing CHF 13.2 million in one of Vaud’s largest funding rounds last year and ranking in the FoodTech 500, Ecorobotix is preparing to ramp up its European expansion in 2022. But as their list of international distributors grows, this dedicated B Corp continues to invest in strengthening the Swiss innovation ecosystem.
Hello, tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Steve Tanner, CTO and co-founder of Ecorobotix. After growing up on a farm, I studied and worked at EPFL as research team lead in microelectronics. The idea of Ecorobotix came to me when I was thinking through how to use robotics and AI to improve agriculture’s environmental impact.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Knowing that we have the technology to really make a difference – to improve farmers’ livelihoods by increasing profitability, to make it easier to produce healthier food, while reducing agriculture’s environmental impact.
What do you do at Ecorobotix in just a few words?
Ecorobotix creates smart spraying solutions for ultra-localized treatments of row crops, pastures and lawns and can be used all year long. Our technology is the most precise sprayer on the market and is developed on a plant-by-plant basis.
As Chief Technical Officer, I’m in charge of product development and technical innovation by leading the research and development team – currently a team of 16 people. We develop everything in-house, including mechanics, fluidics, electronics, and software. I’m in charge of supervising all these developments, setting up collaborations with research partners to support our innovation, and protecting our intellectual property by filing patents.
What does your typical work day look like?
I tend to have three or four meetings every day. In the morning I could be discussing strategic decisions with the management team and coordinating R&D activities with my managers. Then, as the day progresses, I might spend some time talking with specific engineers to explore technical issues and provide guidance and support.
What key milestones did you hit in 2021?
Last year, we were working with ten machines alongside clients in Switzerland. We successfully raised CHF 13.2 million in our Series C funding round in June to help us keep up with demand. The recently launched Swiss Venture Capital report revealed that this actually put us in top ten funding rounds in Vaud Canton.
What are your plans for Ecorobotix in 2022?
We’re focussing on expanding our distribution network. We currently have official distributors in France, Holland, Czech Republic, Italy and Germany.
The funding secured last year will allow us to accelerate the high-volume series production of our ARA plant protection spraying machine and drive our European expansion. This year, we’ll have 70 machines ready to deploy. We’re already working on a few pilot projects in Greece and are very open to discussions with new partners.
We’re also working closely with academic partners to measure the impact of our work. A recent field test on onions in France showed that our solutions allowed for a decrease in the quantity of chemical products used, a significant reduction of residue and phytotoxicity on crops and fewer losses. These echo the promising results we found in our previous trials on beans and sugar beet.
How do you collaborate and support others in the ecosystem?
We support the wider agtech and innovation ecosystem in a number of ways. We enjoy welcoming students for internships, which contributes to the number of qualified and experienced people in the Swiss job market. We also take part in agtech and foodtech events, boosting the food sector’s visibility and highlighting the vital role of sustainability in this industry.
We’re also currently in discussion with an EPFL lab to make our autonomous field robotic platform available to researchers developing projects in digital agriculture. Our first solar-powered platform is really well suited for autonomous robot missions for field tasks, such as data scouting, phenotyping, and agronomic operations at a feasibility stage. We’d like this platform to be an open project to foster academic activity in this field.
What support could the SFNV community offer to further your work?
We’re always looking to connect with partners who are interested in setting up pilot projects. We’re specifically looking for collaborations in plant disease detection and application of fertilizers.
Tell us something we might not know about your company.
I’ll tell you two! For each crop our solutions support, we need to take 100,000 photos! Based on these images, our robots start to recognise the crop and adapt how they react automatically.
As a team, we’re also committed to walking the talk on sustainability. In addition to being certified as a B Corp, all our 40 employees take half a day off each year to get involved in a practical environmental project. Last year we helped to maintain a dry grassland. This year we’re open to suggestions!
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