Data surrounds us, flowing from mobile phones, security cameras, weather stations, online maps and social media. Nearly anything is possible if we collect, filter and analyze that data and learn from it.
As a result, driverless cars, crime-fighting technologies and personalized marketing are on the rise, but so is precision agriculture, which applies information technology to farming.
With precision agriculture and potato farming in mind, Rishin Behl and Peter Goggin co-founded Resson in 2013. The entrepreneurs saw precision agriculture as a way for farmers and food processors to achieve more productive crops and boost profits.
How? By collecting data to spot crop issues early and transforming that into actionable, data-backed information and intelligence. That kind of precision reduces guesswork and allows growers to use less water, fertilizer and pesticides when growing their crops. And the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) entered the field early.
Technology for agribusiness advantage
During the company’s first year, another Fredericton-based businessperson put IRAP on Goggin’s radar by introducing him to William Langley, an NRC IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA), during a local networking event.
After that initial meeting, the two met regularly. By August 2013, NRC IRAP supported the company in developing, testing and refining its first robotics system—proprietary drones coordinated to collect data from various remote sensors like infrared, GPS, thermal imaging and cameras that can be both in the air and on the ground.
The hardware system captured data about crop conditions, flagging any anomalies and stressors like pests, invasive plants, diseases, drought, flooding and extreme temperatures.
According to Goggin, from the outset Langley was a "great sounding board about emerging technologies and big data." He adds, "I was astounded by my ITA’s willingness to share network connections from industry and academia, and to find the right resources to collaborate on getting us beyond new challenges as they arose."
Within nine months, the Resson team completed its first project and determined that the company’s true value lay in its software rather than hardware.
Early contracts and technology successes attracted a $3-million investment round for Resson, led by Rho Canada Ventures in fall 2014.
The follow-on IRAP projects focused on developing smart technology like bioinformatics and predictive analytics. One such project involved software processing and imaging as part of architecture to crunch the data collected by hardware. Another project has led to command-and-control software, essentially an artificial intelligence engine for agriculture to enhance the ability to interpret precisely what is happening, predict what is likely to happen next and analyze what actions are needed for better crops.
Cream of the crop
Resson’s markets, team and proprietary technologies have flourished. In mid-2016, venture-capital investors and strategic partners showed their support for the company during a US$11-million investment round. Resson benefitted from an influx of multinational clients and projects as well.
By encouraging the company to take technology risks, NRC IRAP helped Resson accomplish its technical feats faster. According to Goggin, those R&D projects and achievements also gave the company "access to talented candidates who served to build Resson’s internal capabilities sooner: a clear tie from IRAP to job creation."
Goggin notes that by 2017 Resson had doubled its headcount every year for the past four years, attracting the most recent hires to Atlantic Canada from Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and the United States. Resson now has offices in New Brunswick and California, and intends to expand its bioinformatics and predictive technologies for new types of crops and for more clients in global markets.
Again, NRC IRAP is there. Although Langley retired, new ITA Jean Léger stepped up with different skills and yet a similar attitude of encouraging IRAP clients and equipping them to get beyond the challenges they face.
That is positive news for Resson and its clients. They can continue to blend data, smart software and bioinformatics technologies to conduct check-ups of crop conditions and then harvest healthier bottom lines.
"NRC IRAP-funded R&D projects and achievements gave us access to talented candidates who served to build Resson’s internal capabilities sooner: a clear tie from NRC IRAP to job creation."