Most people don’t think twice when standing in the produce aisle at the grocery store, wondering how the apples in front of them are grown, or where they come from. For Vivid Machines' co-founder Jennifer Lemieux, these questions are a window into a complicated world that few people know about. Having been raised on a family farm in Ilderton, Ontario, Lemieux is aware of both the important and the challenging nature of agriculture.
Despite high demand for fresh fruits and vegetables, growers’ profit is limited by strict quality requirements on the retail side. Nearly 30% of produce can’t be sold fresh not only narrows growers’ margins but also decreases the total supply of local produce. In fact, more than 50% of farms in North America have lost money every year since 2013. On top of that, “the younger generations aren’t drawn to farming because it’s a really hard job,” says Lemieux.
A good food future
Currently, the average grower of permanent and specialty crops relies on generational knowledge and hands-on experience to monitor their production. Unlike homogeneous plants like corn grown on broad acre farms, crops like apples, grapes or nuts cannot be accurately monitored by existing drone or satellite technologies. With hundreds of species and variations, permanent crops require a deeper understanding of each individual plant.
Imagine a world where farmers could produce more and better quality produce in the land they already have – a world with more fresh produce, and profitable farming models that could continue to inspire the next generation of growers. This is the future that Lemieux and her team are building.
Digitizing specialty crop production
Lemieux and her co-founder Johnathan Binas found that farmers are hungry for a technology that could help them digitize specialty crop production.
After years of experience in engineering, product design and artificial data science, Lemieux met Binas at Entrepreneur First, an intensive venture program and investor that connects and advises tech entrepreneurs as they build a business. Binas has an MSc in Physics and a PhD in Information Technology in addition to growing up with his family’s organic food business. Upon meeting, both entrepreneurs found that they were acutely aware of the tech needs of agriculture and envisioned the impact they would have on the food supply and farm profits if they could help growers increase the yield of their produce that makes it to market as fresh food. Now, with an international team, Vivid Machines is dedicated to providing farmers with a much needed tech solution to maximize the volume of nutritious food available to consumers locally and globally.
In collaboration with apple orchards across three continents, Vivid Machines is using imaging technology and artificial intelligence to create a spectral sensor that uses computer vision models to digitize permanent crops. The specialized camera called Vivid X-Vision is like an X-ray for plants. It uses groundbreaking machine vision to capture chemical and physical profiles of every plant it encounters across an entire farm with real-time analytics. This will help growers manage their crop’s progress, predict yields, and provide means for early diagnosis of diseases and nutritional analyses.
“We love our customers, we love the people we work with and we are all aligned on our mission of innovating with the purpose of delivering better technology to help farmers feed the world.”
Connecting with investment through Demo Days
Vivid-X’s automated process for understanding the quality and quantity of produce is taking steps towards helping farmers solve food insecurity. Lemieux and Binas are bringing their idea to life with the guidance of ventureLAB’s Capital Investment Program. Last week, they pitched at ventureLAB’s Supply Chain Demo Day to a 50+ person audience including 29 investors.
“ventureLAB has offered us great insight and advice into the business”, says Lemieux. “ It’s great to have connections that understand exactly what we’re going through and provide advice at key points in our growth”.
Through ventureLAB, the company plans to leverage peer groups, Demo Days and advisor expertise to build networks and expand their ability to fundraise. Later this month, Vivid Machines is kicking off their seed round of $5M USD. The funding will help the company reach 100 customer contracts with the goal of having 60,000 acres under management with over $5M USD in annual recurring revenue contracted by 2024.
A journey that started with apples has unlimited opportunities. After expanding their technology to other fruit, vegetable and nut growers internationally, Vivid Machines will eventually look to integrate into precision and robotics. “The farmers want this solution to work because they know the impact it would have on their business,” says Lemieux. “Our ultimate goal is to provide better tools, so that farming will become easier and more profitable, and then maybe more people will be interested in farming.”
About ventureLAB’s Capital Investment Program
ventureLAB’s Capital Investment Program is tailor-made for companies who are ready to pursue angel or seed-stage rounds of investment. ventureLAB guides participants through an intensive program focusing on elevating pitches, connecting with aligned investors, and developing long-term capital strategies. To become a part of the program, join ventureLAB today.
ventureLAB is a leading global founder community for hardware technology and enterprise software companies in Canada. Located at the heart of Ontario’s innovation corridor in York Region, ventureLAB is part of one of the biggest and most diverse tech communities in Canada. Our initiatives focused on raising capital, talent retention, commercializing technology and IP, and customer acquisition have enabled thousands of companies to create over 4,000 jobs and raise more than $200 million in investment capital. At ventureLAB, we grow globally competitive tech titans that build-to-scale in Canada, for global markets.