CEO Ofir Schlam, CTO Eli Bukchin, COO Ayal Karmi, and Assaf Horowitz
Sumitomo, Cavallo Ventures, Nutrien, OurCrowd, Vertex Ventures, Finestere Ventures
Wine fanciers from California have been full of anxiety in recent months. An unknown virus is attacking vineyards and is liable to damage grape crops and wine quality. Agronomists found that an insect was spreading the virus by moving through vineyards and feeding on weeds there. Who will come to the rescue? The ghost-buster in this case is Taranis, a Ramat Hahayal-based startup that maps the weed and tells the exterminator how much and where to spray in order to get rid of it.
The fight against the virus in California is only a small part of the agricultural technology company's business. Taranis is poised at the starting line in the race for multi-billion-dollar markets. Its product includes photographing fields by drones and airplanes, and automated analysis of the photographs in order to provide highly valuable information to farmers: owners of huge farms in the US, South America, and other regions. Taranis recently raised $20 million more and enlisted important strategic investors from the agricultural sector, which indicates the great expectations from the company.
How did you come to found the company?
"We accumulated a lot of experience in security and had interesting careers, but I saw friends who switched to startups and were satisfied. We wanted to see how our skills could be applied to this sector. The field we work in is positive and contributes to the world. We knew the problems and the huge potential. This is a very conservative industry with very little innovation in comparison to its size."
The technology developed by Gornik makes it possible to photograph very quickly from a height of 30 meters and obtain photographs that appear as if they had been taken next to the plant. A series of drone missions makes it possible to photograph 20,000 dunam (5,000 acres) of agricultural land a day, thereby saving many workdays for agronomists physically searching for insects and diseases.
"We photograph large agricultural areas with a resolution of less than one millimeter per pixel," Schlam says. "This is the first time that a farmer can get pictures from a field like those he gets by walking in it: beetles, larva, eggs, weeds, and diseases."
The photographs are sent to Taranis's deep learning system, which is designed to automatically detect problems. "There are hundreds of types of problems - hundreds of crops multiplied by hundreds of insects, hundreds of diseases, hundreds of types of weeds - so automation is necessary. It's a huge problem, and when you deal with it in one place, it springs up in a new place - a kind of balance with nature," Schlam explains.
After finishing its work, the company give the farm owner a prescription that includes a map of all the weeds, pests, and diseases found on the plots. Based on the recommendations, the farmer selects the materials and fertilizers he or she wants to use and feeds the information into a smart tractor.
The tractor driver is not required to do anything other turning on the ignition at the beginning of the working day and turning it off at the end. The tractor does all of the rest by itself: it goes to the right places and distributes the selected materials. Taranis hopes that in the future, regulation will allow the tractor to travel autonomously with no driver.
Why is it worthwhile for a high-tech company to focus on such a traditional and conservative industry? Anyone looking at Israel's shrinking agriculture would think that this sector is on its way out, but the global demand for food is only increasing. The agricultural countries, including the US, Brazil, Russia, Ukraine, and Australia, are in a race to increase their crops in order to meet the burgeoning demand.
Taranis claims that it saves 7% of growing expenses, which is likely to prove extremely significant under these conditions. The company is already covering 19,000 farms in seven countries and has a few million dollars in annual revenue, but this is a very small proportion of the potential market; a substantial share of this market can make Taranis a giant company.
Schlam says that as of now, the company still prefers to focus on specific countries and crops, "but the market is so big that I believe that if we want to break through quickly, we'll need a bigger financing round or an offering, because we definitely see ourselves as a prominent Israeli player that can support hundreds of millions of dunam worldwide with a relatively small team.
In the next two years, we'll double the company's staff. We're looking for people who are familiar with the highest level of technology. They don't have to know agriculture, but they have to want something very positive for the world."
At the same time, the directions of Taranis's future growth are not limited to agriculture. A senior Google executive in Europe who recently visited the company's offices was interested mainly in its photography technology.
"Today, they update Google Earth once every four years using satellites at a resolution of 30 centimeters per pixel, while we can generate five centimeters per pixel. If they use our technology on large areas, it will be much cheaper and more efficient than using satellites. Meanwhile, though, we're still in muddy South American fields."