Israeli start-up goes for the silver at MassChallenge
Winning in-kind benefits to expand its US business is the second great piece of news for AutoAgronom in recent months
By David Shamah November 3, 2014, Times of Israel
Agricultural technology firm AutoAgronom is the only Israeli winner in the biggest start-up contest in the world, MassChallenge 2014, sponsored by the largest tech accelerator in the world – Massachusetts-based MassChallenge, which this week announced which companies are sharing over $1.75 million in grants and over $10 million of in-kind prizes.
As a “silver” winner, AutoAgronom will get some of that in-kind help, benefits that will help it expand operations in the US, where the company already has a presence. AutoAgronom was one of the 25 finalists in the prestigious contest – chosen from 128 participants in MassChallenge of thousands of companies that applied, and was the only agricultural technology company in the contest.
It was the second great piece of news for AutoAgronom in recent months. In September, the company was acquired by Yuanda Enterprise Group, a Chinese conglomerate that does everything from construction to electronics to environmental technology. Reports pegged the buyout price at $20 million.
With the acquisition, AutoAgronom will bring its advanced drip irrigation technology to the world’s most populous country. By employing smart sensor technology to drip irrigation systems, AutoAgronom saves farmers significant amounts of water, cutting down on the use of pesticides as well.
Combining irrigation and fertilization, an agriculture tech method called fertigation, AutoAgronom uses sensors attached to plant roots and embedded on the ground to analyze soil conditions, weather, water levels, and nutrient levels in the soil, pest conditions, and more. Using advanced algorithms, the system then directs the computerized water and pest control systems on exactly how much of each to release and when to release it, for maximum positive effect.
AutoAgronom, based on Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet in northern Israel, supplies impressive figures on the results of its technology. In the UK, for example, strawberry farmers have been able to cut down on water use by 30% and increase yield by 28% while reducing their use of pesticides by 70%, a major boon for lovers of the fruit who have been scared off because of farmers’ use of environmentally unfriendly chemicals and pesticides. AutoAgronom’s smart fertigation system has been successfully used with 70 different types of crops in 13 countries, the company said.
AutoAgronom is the kind of company MassChallenge was hoping to find when the organization opened up a special MassChallenge office just for Israel – the only place in the world besides Boston so honored so far. A London office is set to open by the end of the year. Massachusetts has good reason to embrace Israeli tech. According to a study released by the New England-Israel Business Council (NEIBC) in 2013, Israeli businesses operating in Massachusetts have contributed significantly to the economy there, providing jobs and investment, and revitalizing key components of the state’s economy, helping it to rise from the doldrums of the nagging, long-running recession that plagues the United States.
The study, the first in-depth analysis on the impact of Israeli tech on any US city or state, showed that in 2012, the 211 Israeli-founded businesses that have set up shop in the state — mostly start-ups — accounted for 2.9% of the state’s GDP. Some 6,700 people — the vast majority Massachusetts residents — worked for these companies, with an additional 17,000 people employed in businesses supporting these companies — technical support, janitorial services, banking, and others. Thanks to this “multiplier effect,” the $6.2 billion business that these Israeli companies did in 2012 had an overall economic impact of nearly $12 billion.
Overall, job growth at the Israeli companies grew was times faster than the state’s overall employment growth rate between 2010-2012. Over that period, revenue at Israeli-founded companies in the state grew three times faster than in the Massachusetts economy overall, with revenue growth double the state’s most important IT and professional services sectors, including life sciences, the study showed.
According to Chief Scientist Avi Hasson, “Massachusetts was the first US state to establish a collaborative R&D grant program with Israel, and has been one of the largest recipients of funds from the U.S.-Israel grant program BIRD,” the US-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development Fund, which provides money to promising Israeli companies partnering with American businesses. On a visit to Israel this year, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick concurred, saying, “Massachusetts has become a home away from home for Israel’s innovation economy, and I am proud that our 2011 trade mission and our strong public-private partnerships have laid the foundation for that success. Strengthening our global relationships is central to our growth strategy, because we know that in order to succeed in the 21st century global economy, we must be prepared to compete for jobs on the international stage.”