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SA aerial-data analytics startup Aerobotics announced this evening that it has received R29-million ($2-million) from local venture capital (VC) company Paper Plane Ventures in its latest round of funding.
Aerobotics’ various software products help farmers – by way of a web-based and artificial-intelligence (AI) enabled web platform and app – to scout and find areas of their vineyards of orchards that are underperforming because of pests or other problems.
The latest funding follows a $2-million round led by Nedbank in May last year (the deal was announced in July 2018 — see here) and an R8-million round in 2017 from SA VC 4Di Capital and the Savannah Fund in Kenya (see this story).
Tonight’s announcement was made at an exclusive address in De Waterkant, Cape Town, in a building where the startup — which was founded by Benji Meltzer and James Paterson (pictured above, left and right, respectively) in 2014 — is expected to move into the new offices this Friday (1 March).
Aerobotics has landed R29-million in investment from Paper Plane Ventures, in its latest funding round
Paper Plane Ventures draws its contributions from Rand Merchant Bank and from Dimension Data co-founder Richard Came, said Paterson, who would not reveal to Ventureburn the stake that the VC has taken in his startup.
He told Ventureburn that the funding deal was signed at the end of last week.
The funding would, as with previous rounds the startup has received, be used to fund product development, new markets and hires and fund the legal fees necessary to meet any legal requirements of operating in new markets, said Paterson.
Paper Plane Ventures’ founder Stuart van der Veen has joined Aerobotics as chief platform officer. He, together with CCO Andrew Burdoch, are expected to relocate to the startup’s new US office in Los Angeles in the coming months.
Currently the US office is staffed by two employees and Paterson told Ventureburn that the startup is expected to hire a further six persons for the office in the next six to eight months.
“What we’ve seen is that farmers want to speak to a person,” explained Paterson.
He added that while the Cape Town office will continue to work on development of new software products, the US office will serve largely as a sales office targeting among others fruit and wine farmers.
The startup, he said, is not profitable as yet, with investors keen to grow the number of users that use the startup’s software. Currently he said the startup had 800 active monthly subscribers to its software Aeroview.
He said the startup is constantly adding new products based on feedback his team gets from farmers. The latest addition is a product that tracks the yield of a fruit farm (the number of fruit and size of distribution on a particular tract of land).
Asked by Ventureburn whether he and Meltzer still had majority ownership of the company, Paterson responded only that the founding team (which includes the two founders as well as Burdock and software developer Nicholas Coles) still had what he termed “a rewarding stake” in the firm.
He pointed out that all staff also had a share in the startup through a share scheme.
Aerobotics now has about 50 employees — up from about 10 two years ago. This expansion has necessitated a move of offices.
Ventureburn asked if the new offices — spread over two floors in the upmarket Waterkant area — would not be more expensive than the startup’s previous location, at Mason’s Press in Woodstock.
However, Paterson said the per-square-metre cost of the new offices is less than that of the Woodstock location.
The upmarket location of the new offices and the party the startup threw — with a DJ, models serving drinks and even Wesgro CEO Tim Harris gracing the stage (ironically the building was designed by another “Tim Harris”) — is likely aimed at sending a clear signal to the market that this is a company that has arrived. Now many will be asking, what’s next for Aerobotics?
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Featured image: Aerobotics co-founders Benji Meltzer and James Paterson at the startup’s new Cape Town offices today (Stephen Timm)