Lund company wants to help farmers around the world
Vultus’ analyses cover an area twice the size of Sweden’s total farmland
Robert Schmitt and William Håkansson came to startup accelerator Barcamper with the promising idea of monitoring crops with the help of drones. A year later, the idea still remains – even though they have switched from drones to satellites and have also changed their sales channels. Next season, Vultus hopes to be ready to help farmers all over the world!
Robert Schmitt and William Håkansson both grew up close to agriculture and share a strong interest in technology. This gave them the idea that they could monitor and analyze crops using drones equipped with cameras. Based on their analyses, they could then give farmers advice about fertilizer use. This was the idea they brought to Barcamper in the spring of 2016. Soon after, Robert and William started the company Vultus, placed second in the Barcamper innovation competition and acquired offices at Ideon Innovation.
Everything was going smoothly and seemed ready for launch during the winter and spring of 2016-17. William and Robert considered how they could scale up the work of the drones, including by hiring pilots. They developed the image analysis and control files and sought partners to distribute and sell the service.
"Then we came to the execution phase," says William. “We tried using the pilots but they had difficulty flying the drones. In addition, our distribution partners did not sell to as many customers as they promised.”
Because the drones worked well with Robert and William at the controls, they had to fly them themselves to take care of the customers they had already obtained.
"This meant that we performed everything from start to finish - flight, analysis and control files. Because this was difficult to carry out, we were fortunate to have fewer customers than anticipated. We realized that our model did not work because we had scalability problems.”
The solution was to abandon the initial idea of using drones and instead switch to analyzing satellite images. Since the summer of 2017, Vultus has received data from American and European satellites.
"We realized that we did not need such a high resolution to implement our nitrogen model; it was high enough with satellite images.”
After addressing the scalability problems, Vultus was able to review its business model. One step was to start employing developers instead of pilots. The previous distributors were also replaced, so Vultus now sells directly to providers of existing farm management systems. These systems include plant cultivation programs that help farmers all over the world keep track of their crops, with which Vultus' fertilizer analysis models fit well.
"Previously there had been basic analyses in these programs, but we take it one step further and provide practical recommendations about how much fertilizer to use. As I see it, the rest of the market is far from what we do. I think the future looks very bright for us," says William.
Vultus has now come so far that they have a cooperation agreement to analyze a total of 5.5 million hectares of agricultural land, an area that is roughly twice the size of Sweden's total farmland. (Swedish Board of Agriculture 2017.)
In the year since Barcamper, Vultus has been in several start-up competitions and has had great success. They reached the finals of the Venture Cup after being named a regional winner in the Students Superstarts class, won first prize for young innovators in the SKAPA competition, and were accepted into the Fast Track accelerator in Malmö. This has given them many experiences - including how to pitch.
What should you think about when you pitch your idea?
"It's important to think about what you want to communicate and to consider what you’re saying really means," says William. “You should not talk too much and should communicate in a clear and simple way. You should also describe the problem and how the solution you have developed is different from what already exists. Finally, if you show slides, they should help visualize what you want to say, not simply present a lot of text.
What else have you learned since working with Barcamper?
“We did not know anything when we got there! We were stuck on our first idea and could not objectively look at the problems until we came to the execution phase. Now we have replaced the drones and hope that by developing a good product we can reach many farmers all over the world.”