With a new low-interest loan in hand, SkySquirrel is setting its sights in being the market leader in preventing a disease that threatens some of Europe’s most revered wine regions.
The Halifax area company uses drones to gather data from agricultural fields, focusing on the highest-margin segment of agriculture, the wine industry. On Thursday, it announced it received a $500,000 loanfrom the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s Business Development Program.
Though the company is working with clients around the world, it’s emphasis in the near term will be working on its technology to combat flavescence doree, a disease plaguing southern European vineyards. There is no cure for the disease, which prevents plants from producing grapes; once it occurs, the farmer has no choice but to destroy the vine before it spreads.
“The big news for us is probably how we’re going to roll it out in France,” said Co-Founder and CEO Richard van der Put in an interview to announce the loan. “If we can be first in this market, and so far we are, we can create a monopoly product in France.”
SkySquirrel’s Aqweo drones are mounted with multi-spectral cameras supplied by a commercial provider. The latest generation features a camera developed by SkySquirrel that is sensitive enough to detect changes in leaf colour when flavescence doree is in its early stages. That should help to prevent the spread of the disease.
The team spent a month in France this summer during the growing season to test the product and plans to deepen its work in the field next year.
The company said earlier in the year that it had raised $1 million, with equal contributions from Innovacorp and an unnamed Ontario investor. Van der Put said the company may announce more funding soon.
With this money, SkySquirrel has been able to target a big geographical expanse, helped by its partnership with Vineview, based in St. Helena, Calif., in the Napa Valley wine region. It has allowed SkySquirrel to have an office in Napa. And a former SkySquirrel founder is now living in Switzerland, meaning the company has representation in the European company. The company now has clients in several countries around the world. It will soon add Australia and New Zealand.
Van der Put said the relationship with Vineview means the company has been able to benefit from technology used by NASA in the development of its product.
“What we also have as an advantage is that we have more than 15 years of aerial images because of our relationship with our partner,” said van der Put.