“Agriculture is our wisest pursuit because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness.” At least that’s what Thomas Jefferson believed. Even though the essence of his belief is still true today, we’re taking this discussion further, to a more technical level. And who better to lead with than Bill Gates, who has committed more than $2 billion to agricultural development efforts through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He advocates smart farming and finding ways to increase the quality and quantity of agricultural yielding through technology. “I have seen firsthand that agricultural science has enormous potential to increase the yields of small farmers and lift them out of hunger and poverty”, says Gates.
This is where SiloMeter comes in. They have developed a hardware device that connects to the temperature and humidity sensors installed inside an agricultural silo, and prevents the problems that can appear due to fluctuations: loss in quality due to excessive temperatures, mold bursts due to sudden rise in temperatures (which is particularly dangerous because it can spread fast and ruin the entire crop), in some cases, like depositing rape, improper ventilation can cause an implosion (ruining the silo as well), and others.
Meet the team behind the product
Cezar Nourescu, CEO, 31 years old, studied automatics at the Polytechnical University of Bucharest. He started working in the 8th grade at his father’s company: first installing computers and then internet networks in Slobozia, an Internet Cafe, wireless networks in Ialomita, large structured cabling (eg. 10,000 ports), TV antennas, ECDL courses, Linux servers and others. In 2010 he took a different road and got a job at an IBM partner for 6 months, where he learnt about enterprise infrastructure for data centers. That paved the way for him starting his own business in 2011, named CBN IT, one of the first software companies in the world that used Google Cloud Platform for B2B apps.
Bogdan Nourescu, CTO, 28 years old, also studied automatics at the Polytechnical University of Bucharest. He worked as a developer in all the above-mentioned projects, beginning with CBN IT in 2011. He holds degrees for all Google cloud platform certifications and those of trainer: Google Cloud Platform Authorized Trainer, Google App Engine Qualified Developer, Google Compute Engine Qualified Developer, Google BigQuery Qualified Developer, Google Cloud Storage Qualified Developer, and Google Cloud SQL Qualified Developer. There are only a handful of people in the world who have achieved this.
Within CBN IT, they started by creating websites for several Mayor’s Offices in the country, which they sold as a subscription service, as opposed to their competitors. They still have around 30 clients from this endeavour.
Afterwards, they developed several apps for an Orange partner’s call center and sales teams – again, as a subscription service. They are still serving their customers as well. They have automated sales flows for almost 150 employees who process 3 to 4 million customers.
In 2012, they started working on a school and university management software called 2bitsEDU, in collaboration with another company. Although they worked on it for 3 years, they haven’t managed to promote or sell it at the level they expected; they only had a handful of clients.
In 2015 they started developing Arendas.ro, an app that helps manage farming contracts, the transactions pertaining to each contract, and the reporting process to mayor’s offices and APIA.
In 2016, their partner from Arendas.ro asked for their advice in identifying a silo monitoring solution. This is how they came up with the idea for SiloMeter.
Their market consists of farmers who deposit their own grains, traders who buy from the farmers and resell, factories that need to store prime matter, concentrated fodder factories, transport companies, etc.
They currently have 5 clients and more than 30 interested leads, and they estimate there are over 3000 silo owners in Romania only. So the local market potential is valued at $10 million, and worldwide at $3.2 billion.
Current stage of product development
They’ve reached the point where the product is the product is fully functional and mature, after 5 prototypes. A few weeks ago, we went to an agro-farm “to see the sensors in action”! Check out the video below for a sneak peek into their world!
Silo manufacturers have partners who offer similar solutions, but most of them don’t provide an alternative as performant as the one they have developed.
- They offer cloud versus local solutions, which can lead to higher costs, twice as high or more.
- Very few devices can be accessed remote, but not directly and in real time. Their competitors offer solutions that refresh and synchronize the data within the cloud from time to time.
- Most of the other devices provide local old-school automation systems, not configurable from the cloud
- Silomonitor creates an IoT type network to process data (Big Data), which allows them to identify patterns of problems that they can then prevent.
To generate sales, they will start by selling the hardware equipment, to which they will add an annual subscription for cloud services. They are also planning to test clients’ reactions to selling the entire solution as a service, more exactly Hardware+Software as a Service.
So far the business is self-funded, and they estimate that by the end of 2016 they will need an investment that will allow them to scale on multiple markets.
They do believe that there’s nothing that they can’t handle, and this is the way they approach each and every challenge. They estimate that they will encounter difficulties when scaling, for example in the human resources department and their know-how, since they haven’t had any previous similar experiences.
The MVP Academy experience
By participating in the MVP Academy they got access to valuable know-how from experienced professionals, that has proved extremely valuable for their startup, as they say. They recommend the program to all tech startups, for the experience in itself and for the networking opportunities.
Top 3 things learnt at the MVP Academy
- Valuable knowledge in the hardware development sector(they didn’t have previous experience here).
- It’s important to realize two things: what you know that you don’t know, and what you don’t know that you don’t know.
- The process of developing something is significantly accelerated when you receive approval and/or disapproval from experienced professionals because you can take better and faster decisions.
What does the future hold?
Their focus this year is to sell as much as possible in Romania and, at the same time, start discussions with silo owners in other countries. At the end of 2016 and in 2017 they will be selling in Europe and maybe on other continents as well.