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The founder of a prize-winning AgriTech startup set to launch in the United States has spoken of the importance of patient capital.

MD Lorenzo Conti had the idea for Crover while completing a PhD at the University of Edinburgh in granular rheology – the study of how granular matter like sand or grains flow.

“Lying in bed one day, I had an intuition: what if the rotation of an object submerged in grains could generate not just rotational forces,” he tells TechBlast after triumphing in the Grow-NY pitching competition in New York. 

“I set up some experiments and simulations at home to test that hypothesis – and, to my surprise, I ended up discovering the physical effect which is described in my PhD thesis. This formed the basis for our first patent application and the first successful attempt to create a robot able to ‘swim’ through bulk solids and powders, which led to the creation of Crover.”

Crover’s ‘grain swimming’ robotic technology helps grain storage operators reduce losses and maintain optimum storage conditions by remotely monitoring and maintaining quality.

“Our robot swims through large bulks of grain, measuring and mapping temperature and moisture through most of the bulk, while stirring the grain as it is moving through,” explains Conti. “We have been working on new features like a sampling module with the ability to collect physical samples at depth, and we are putting a lot of focus now on the automation of the system.

“We also have a companion web app where grain storage operators can visualise the data that the system collects and get notifications of potential issues.”

Crover winning at Grow-NY Summit 2023

Crover was one of 20 finalists to compete in the fifth annual Grow-NY Summit recently. While it missed out on the $1 million grand prize, it was one of two businesses to win $500k, with a further four selected to receive $250k. The other six winning startups are based in North America.

The competition, administered by Cornell University’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement, awards the funding to companies which then commit to operate in New York’s central, Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions.

“We have come a long way – growing the team to 13 full-time, progressing to the pilots with our fantastic commercial partners, and moving to the new labs at The National Robotarium earlier this year were some big steps for us,” says Conti.

Crover team

The 20 finalists selected to take part received dedicated mentorship from hand-selected regional business advisors leading up to the Summit and created a detailed business plan to present in the final competition. The finalists then gave their pitches to a panel of seven judges.

Criteria for judging included the viability of the startup’s business model; the diversity, quality, readiness and completeness of its team; the value that it offers customers; the level of innovation; and the job growth and opportunity potential it can bring to the region.

“We are very excited about the opportunity via Grow-NY to start working in the US, and that is our next challenge as we continue to strengthen our operations in the UK and improve our product,” continues the MD.

“The Grow-NY team has done a world-class job designing a programme which is, as they say, ‘pro-startups’ – and that truly transpires while going through the competition. 

“From having had the opportunity to dedicate two fully-paid-for weeks in Upstate New York to get to know the ecosystem (from potential clients to local support organisations, universities, manufacturers and everything in between); to being assigned a mentor who went beyond what we would have imagined and who acted over those weeks almost like a member of the team; to creating relevant connections and introductions (we even got to give a guest presentation at Cornell University!) – all parts of it were truly transformational as we prepare for the US market.”

Why brave tech startup founders need honest feedback

In 2021 Crover raised £322,000 in crowdfunding and also secured a £50,000 Innovate UK grant this year.

“Truly distinctive and innovative products take a long time and capital to develop and mature,” says Conti. “The availability of patient capital is key to bringing on real transformative change.”

He advises fellow founders: “If you are starting or are in the early stages of a business, make sure that you have the dedication and commitment to take it all the way as there’s a good chance that success is going to take longer than you may initially think, and require a substantial amount of resilience.”

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