Resson, the Fredericton developer of technology that offers artificial intelligence-based advice to farmers about how to care for their crops, has sold a slate of its intellectual property to prior investor McCain Foods.
Resson CEO Mike Morris said in an interview that the main purpose of the deal is to allow the company to concentrate its research and development, as well as commercialization work on a single, core product.
Before the sale, Resson was effectively developing two technology platforms simultaneously: one that used satellite imagery to give farmers broad advice about caring for their fields as a whole and one focused on using cameras mounted on tractors to offer feedback at the level of individual plants. McCain bought the satellite imagery business.
“The win that Resson gets out of this now is that we get to focus all of our effort on the (tractor) camera technology,” said Morris. “We may get to another (capital) raise, but it will be a little later.
“And then the satellite-based technology also gets a team solely focused on it, of course, within McCain Foods.”
Resson was originally founded in 2013 by Peter Goggin and Rishin Behl, with the aim of using drones to gather images of crops. Their plan was for an AI system to then analyze the images and make suggestions about crop management practices — where and when farmers ought to spread fertilizer or pesticides, for example, or the optimal time to harvest crops. Goggin is now a senior investment manager at the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation.
McCain Foods, an early backer, was bullish on the technology, with hopes of deploying it at the agriculture giant’s potato farms. But the cost of using drones to gather image data proved untenable, so Resson pivoted to an R&D path focused on using satellite imagery.
Around the same time, the team also began exploring using cameras mounted on tractors to collect more granular image data and ultimately pursued both development paths simultaneously.
But Morris said that approach proved problematic, with Resson staff stretched thin across multiple, disparate projects. The result was that commercialization progress on both suites of technology was underwhelming.
One of his friends, who still serves on Resson’s board of directors, recruited Morris to help jumpstart the company’s growth. He became CEO last year, replacing Jeff Grammer, who still serves on the board of directors. Previously, Morris had been COO of Hacketts Cove, N.S. radar and sonar-maker Nautel.
Morris said the team was struggling a bit working on two products simultaneously. "Trying to do two things at once was really quite [difficult], and we're not a huge team," he said. "So we set out trying to think, 'Oh, how can we create more focus on this?'" .
The solution, proposed by McCain as Morris debated whether to create two separate divisions within Resson to silo development work, was the sale of the satellite image analysis technology.
Now, McCain’s portion of the business is in the early stages of commercialization and will be used on the agriculture giant’s own fields, while the portion Resson kept is pre-commercialization.
Eight of Resson’s staff are also moving to McCain as part of the deal, leaving Morris with an eight-person team in Canada and another seven employees in India.
Morris said that the boost to Resson’s coffers from the McCain deal is welcome, but its main purpose is to allow his team to focus their efforts exclusively on the commercially promising tractor photography system.
And while those details have yet to be ironed out, he said he hopes to sell the technology in two ways: as an aftermarket kit that can be attached to existing tractors and as a feature integrated into new farm machinery.
“I don’t think that Resson would be the one selling that to farmers,” Morris said. “It might be a tractor company, or maybe it’s one of the chemical companies, the fertilizer or the pesticide companies.”
Those businesses, he suggested, might license Resson’s algorithm for use with hardware from other sources.
Regardless, Morris said his team's largest target markets are the United States and Europe. And to help with the commercialization side, the company is working with Mumbai-based industrial machinery giant Mahindra Group — the world’s largest tractor manufacturer by volume. And like McCain before it bought the satellite-related intellectual property, Mahindra is also a shareholder in Resson.