Going to Slush startup festival in Helsinki is a great opportunity for any startup. But actually pitching there because influentials from the startup-world think you’ve earned a spot, might be even better. eFarmer managed to pull that off by winning two tickets and a spot on stage during a pre-Slush Pitching Competition. CEO and founder Michael Utkin: “Honestly, I didn’t expect to win.”
TomTom of agriculture
Calling eFarmer the TomTom of agriculture is not far from the truth, according to Michael Utkin. The startup based in Noordwijk has an antenna and software for tractors that can be used by farmers to track their position on the field. The accompanying software enables them to be more efficient than ever. “It lets farmers see when they skipped a part of their land, or when they did a part twice”.
Pre-Slush pitching competition
eFarmer won their tickets and their right to pitch on Slush during a special pre-Slush pitching competition which was organized by DutchBasecamp, RVO, The Finnish Embassy in the Netherlands and Slush. A panel consisting of serial entrepreneur Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, Hella Hueck (RTL), Claire Boonstra and Frans Nauta choose the best pitch out of a selection of ten startups. Utkin: “The judges liked the fact that we have a B2B startup with lots of potential to scale up.
Also at Agritechnica
Attending Slush means another important date in the already full schedule of CEO Michael Utkin: “At the same time we’re also showcasing at the Agritechnica conference in November, which is a big deal in the agricultural world. For us that will be mostly about finding distribution for our GPS antennas. Slush offers a great chance to look for investors.”
Those investors are more than welcome. Utkins explains how their business revolves around three services: “The base is a free app that helps farmers with their documentation and can save them a lot of time dealing with governments, regulations and permissions. Then we also want to offer a platform which helps them source labor or machinery. This is already done by a lot of small farmers in the world, who don’t have all the equipment they need. So instead, they rely on friends, family or neighbors. We want to streamline that process.”
Up to 30 centimeters precise
And then there is the navigation part. Utkin: “Our navigation helps farmers to be more precise and efficient while driving on their fields. Our soft- and hardware can save them up to 30 euro per hectare on material every year.” Standard GPS, such as the one in your smartphone, does not suffice, according to Utkin. “The precision of a standard device is about 2.5 meters. Imagine being a small farmer and having gaps of 2.5 meters on your field of only 10 hectare. You’d waste a lot of money. We’re currently offering an antenna with 30 centimeter precision and are testing a cheaper one with 50 centimeter precision. This should be enough for the majority of our users, while remaining affordable.”
Unbundling is key
“These antennas are third party devices. But we’re also developing our own antenna, with a precision of 30 centimeters. This has the advantage that we can make it compatible with most of the Android hardware that is available. It will also allow us to decrease the price, while keeping the same margins.” eFarmers systems are especially interesting for medium-sized and smaller farmers. By unbundling features, it allows them to make their system affordable. “These antennas are not the stuff you can easily buy on Amazon. Our competition sells everything – antennas, screens, installation – in a bundle, making it very expensive.”
Looking for funding
This is where an investment would come in handy, says Utkin: “We’re currently looking for 1,5 million euro to get our navigation rolling. In 2 years’ time we’ve got to be thinking more strategic.” Utkin is looking at smaller farmers in big markets. “Currently 60 percent of our users are in South America. We get 500 new signups every week, 200 of them stem from countries like Brazil and Argentina. In the future we’re also looking at India and Africa, where our system can have a huge impact on food production.” Utkin is is spending his second ticket to Slush wisely: “I want to take a colleague who works closely with Indian farmers.”
Keep the ESA close
The startup is currently more than happy to stay in the Netherlands. eFarmer is currently based in Noordwijk, at the European Space Agency where they also enrolled in the business incubator. “I’m originally from the Ukraine”, says Utkin. “It is a big agricultural land, but most of the farms are big companies. We found that those companies mostly look at short term gain.” In the Netherlands, they found the ideal launchpad for their service. “People here understand agriculture. There’s a lot of knowledge, a lot of potential partners and compared to other countries a lot of experts. And the farmers are tech-savvy, there’s a high smartphone penetration.” Having ESA right next door helps as well. “We can work on our GPS, together with the scientists who control the satellites.”
Pictures by Bibi Veth.