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Media Release

Agricultural innovators win BankSA’s search for the next big thing in business

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Two fledgling agricultural companies have beaten a hot field of emerging local businesses to win BankSA’s 2015 Jump Start Your Start Up competition.

Seer Insights, a start-up firm which has developed a new software system to improve the accuracy of yield prediction in the agricultural sector, has been awarded the $10,000 first prize, while a $5,000 runner-up grant has been awarded to SenseAG for its plans to develop a crop and herd health scanning drone.

Both companies will also receive mentoring and assistance from BankSA in the form of access and networking support, as well as profile building opportunities through the bank’s social media channels.

BankSA Chief Executive Nick Reade said the competition attracted more than 400 applications, which not only reflects the competition’s growing popularity, but shows the outstanding level of local entrepreneurship in South Australia.

“BankSA’s Jump Start Your Start Up competition is about helping unearth new businesses and supporting local innovators,” he said.

“To receive 400 applications from South Australian entrepreneurs is simply fantastic and demonstrates the exceptional level of young talent we have coming through in this state.

“The competition winners from Seer Insights and SenseAG are nothing short of inspiring. They’re go-getters, have already shown strong entrepreneurial skills, and have the drive and focus needed to establish and grow their businesses.

“Importantly, they’ve also demonstrated the kind of innovative and commercial thinking we need to help lift and expand our state’s economy. The ideas put forward by Seer Insights and SenseAg have enormous potential to make a real difference to the state’s critical agricultural sector.”

Seer Insights comprises three highly creative South Australian university students: Harry Lucas, Liam Ellul and Petros Bakopoulos.

Their crop yield prediction technology stems from a chance meeting in a stalled elevator between Mr Lucas, a mechatronic engineering and computer science student, and Mr Ellul, a law student and marketing graduate.

While trapped in the elevator, the pair discovered common interests and goals, with their discussions ultimately leading to the creation of Seer Insights and its ‘GrapeBrain’ platform, which is currently under development with input from the wine and grape growing sector.

The pair was later joined by fellow student Mr Bakopoulos, who is studying mechanical engineering and finance.

“Our primary and test market is the viticulture industry,” Mr Lucas said. “By improving the accuracy of yield prediction, we can optimise current business processes and move a step closer to applying the system to other agricultural crops and ultimately help feed the world.”

The GrapeBrain technology captures a greater and more reliable volume of information about grape growing and winemaking processes, enabling those in the industry to more accurately assess annual yield levels and the resources they will need at harvest time.

“Not being able to accurately predict the grape yield from one year to the next is a major and extremely costly issue for the wine industry,” Mr Lucas said. “Our system could potentially save the industry hundreds of millions of dollars each year.”

The Seer Insights story is already creating ripples of interest across the world and local growers are keen to help test the technology in their vineyards. The company’s three leaders have won

Young SA Innovator of the Year, the University of Adelaide Tech eChallenge and a trip to the United States in December to pitch their GrapeBrain technology to US grape growers.

While it was a mechanical failure that led to the formation of Seer Insights, it was a health scare and change of career direction that led Regan Dunstan to develop his agricultural drone crop and herd scanner concept. An aviation graduate, he originally had dreams of becoming a pilot, however an unexpected health problem meant he could not fly so he began studying agricultural sciences instead.

“Prevention is better than cure so SenseAG has developed plans for a sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicle to scan crops and provide farmers with precise data on crop health, which can be accessed before problems become apparent to the eye,” said Mr Dunstan, who grew up on a farm giving him a good understanding of the many variables that impact agricultural production.

“Using a drone with a thermal camera, farmers can record plant health and identify problem areas. It can also be used over cattle yards, for example, to determine which animals are recording a higher than average body temperature and therefore may have a higher chance of being sick and should be separated from the herd.

“The BankSA funding is a big boost and will help us further develop a prototype for additional testing.”