How South African based start-up Aerobotics helps tree crop farmers improve their business

Team 53°N got the answer by interview INSEAD alum (‘15J) Nasreen Patel

After finishing her MBA and having worked at UBER for two years, it was time for something new. A month ago, Nasreen joined Aerobotics, a Cape Town based AgriTech startup that focuses on helping tree crop farmers, as their Head of Product. Their technology and applications help farmers to detect health issues of farms in an early stage by on demand drone and satellite analytics. Current time-consuming scouting activities of farmers can now be reduced from weeks to days and save the farmer a lot of time and money, while increasing productivity.

How they do it? Drone pictures from above show the health and stress levels of the trees, by looking at color, canopy size and other metrics. The software can then detect which areas of the farm need special attention and Aerobotics’ in-field application helps the farmer to solve the problem. Don’t hesitate to visit their website and watch the movie for more details.

From South African start-up to international scale-up

“Detecting the problem in an early stage is most important,” Nasreen tells us, because in an early stage you can still do something about it. This is also where they see opportunity to expand their services: an early warning system on a regional level, based on data from individual farmers, can help prevent crop deceases and other issues, increasing yields and impacting the economy worldwide. Aerobotics doesn’t like to be seen as a South African startup, since the product is just as applicable in the US or any other geography. Now having ~25 employees, this is going to be the big challenge for the coming years: how to scale the business up internationally?

Jumping into the deep…

“I know very little about agriculture, but with a background in computer sciences, affinity with Tech and the ability to create significant and meaningful impact, I decided to join Aerobotics”. Nasreen knew one of the co-founders and thus already had the connection. Being risk averse by nature, starting something from scratch was maybe not the right next step. Joining a start-up like Aerobotics felt more natural and does give more than enough exciting challenges in her first month. “The Minimum Valuable Product mentality of a start-up is very different from the corporate mentality I was used to. I now have to push myself to create things quickly, instead of debating about it for multiple days. Also, we brainstorm a lot with the team, which is a lot of fun.”

Answering the question if people at INSEAD are risk averse in general: “That might be the case, but INSEAD gives you the confidence that you might be able to do it.” And she did it! Thanks, Nasreen, for a very interesting interview and we’ll definitely keep track of your and Aerobotics’ journey.

And finally, our two wacky questions…

…If Aerobotics was an animal what would it be? “A leopard, something fast”.
…And if you can hire anyone in the world for Aerobotics who would it be? “Hendrik (at least that’s what Hendrik wants)”.

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