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SkySquirrel gets $500,000 loan to bring drone crop monitoring to French vineyards

Halifax AgTech drone company SkySquirrel Technologiess has received a low-interest $500,000 loan from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s (ACOA) Business Development Program, which the company will use to expand into helping to track and defeat a disease currently wreaking havoc in the vineyards of France and southern Europe.

While the company began as a UAV company focused on using drones outfitted with heat-sensitive cameras that could be employed in rescue operations or for military purposes, SkySquirrel has since pivoted to focus on crop monitoring, with a specialization in the $85 billion wine industry, which is a higher-margin market than most other forms of agriculture.

“The big news for us is probably how we’re going to roll it out in France. If we can be first in this market, and so far we are, we can create a monopoly product in France,” said Co-Founder and CEO Richard van der Put in an interview with Entrevestor.com. “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.”

A disease called Flavescence dorée, for which there is no known cure, has been ravaging vineyards across southern Europe for the past several years, forcing farmers to destroy vines before the disease has had a chance to infect the rest of the crop, as each plant can no longer produce grapes after it has been infected.

The crops threatened by the disease are some of Europe’s most revered and lucrative wine vineyards, creating an urgent situation for any technology that might alleviate the immediate threat.

The SkySquirrel team spent a month in France this summer to test a new drone-mounted multi-spectral camera supplied by a commercial provider during the growing season, the latest generation of which is sensitive enough to detect changes in leaf colour when the Flavescence dorée disease is still in its early stages.

Founded in May 2012 in Cheticamp, Cape Breton, by Dutch engineer Van der Put, who immigrated to Nova Scotia to work at Halifax Biomedical in Mabou, SkySquirrel Technologies is now based in Halifax, and has presences in Switzerland and California.

With existing clients already in Canada, France, Spain, Switzerland, Chile and China, SkySquirrel has also plans to add clients in Australia and New Zealand in the near future.

SkySquirrel has an exclusive partnership with St.Helena, California-based VineView, Scientific Aerial Imaging, Inc., a provider of remote sensing services located in the Napa Valley region serving Californian grape growers since 2002.

SkySquirrel’s relationship with VineView has enabled the company to have access to technology used by NASA in the development of its drone imaging product.

In March, SkySquirrel closed a $1-million investment round, with $500,000 from Nova Scotia early stage venture capital organization Innovacorp and $500,000 from “an undisclosed Ontario-based private investor” for its drone crop analytics technology aimed at monitoring and improving crop health.

Van der Put told Entrevestor.com that SkySquirrel may announce more funding soon.

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