Innovate UK EDGE helps agri-tech firm revamp business strategy

Female fruit picker loading strawberries into a green plastic basket on a trolley.

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A cloud computing start-up that monitors farm productivity has launched a recruitment app, expanded its software development team and secured Innovate UK funding, all with help from Innovate UK EDGE. It now plans to scale globally.

Cropdesk was founded by third generation blueberry farmer – and grandson of the UK’s first commercial blueberry farmer - David Trehane. 

“When I took over the farm, harvest workers would write their name on a piece of Cornflake packet and stick it to the box they picked,” says David. “That’s the level of data we were gathering. Our sole metric for whether we had a good season was our bank balance.”

Using his background in cloud computing, David built a solution that would measure worker’s picking speeds, track the productivity of berry varieties and predict yield by analysing climate data. 

In December 2019, David began work with Jayne Codling, innovation and growth specialist at Innovate UK EDGE.

He said: “I was in a bit of a fog at the time. I wasn't really clear on what we were doing, and I was a bit depressed because our MVP wasn’t performing as I wanted it to.

“But from that first meeting, Jayne has been absolutely pivotal in getting us on track and to where we are today.”  

Jayne began by suggesting a fresh perspective and supported David on to Innovate UK’s Global Business Innovation Programme, including a funded visit to an international agri-tech conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Australia agri-tech visit 

During the visit, David changed the direction of Cropdesk completely, deciding to create a far more integrated solution that would allow farmers to monitor every aspect of production from one platform. 

“I came back from Australia completely refreshed and refocused, having learned a lot and with a clear path in mind.”

“I’d also identified challenges in finding good seasonal workers – a problem that was about to skyrocket in the UK as we entered the first national lockdown.”

Innovate UK funding for seasonal recruitment app  

While UK farmers were preparing for a post-Brexit slump in Eastern European labour, they weren’t prepared for COVID advancing that scenario by a year. 

David designed a prototype solution called Seasonal Jobs, which works like a dating app for farmers and workers.

Applicants fill in a basic CV including details like availability, employers set their requirements and the system pairs up likely matches. Applicants need not apply to farms individually and the best candidates get snapped up quickly. 

To fund the project, David created an application for Innovate UK’s Business-Led Innovation in Response to Global Disruption competition. Innovate UK EDGE’s Jayne Codling previewed the application and made suggestions, in particular around placing the innovation at the centre of the business strategy. The bid was successful and the project was awarded £50,000.

“It would have been simply impossible without Innovate UK EDGE – they even managed to help me secure extended impact funding, worth an extra £25,000.”

“I used to work with developers in Serbia, which was a real pain point for me as I couldn’t manage them properly. But with this funding, I’ve been able to hire a team of four full time developers and four contractors, all in the UK, which is working much better.”

A critical friend 

For David, the most valuable element of Innovate UK EDGE’s support has been the sounding board offered by his dedicated specialist, Jayne.

“Particularly in the beginning when I was a solopreneur, the ability to download what's in my head and have someone experienced say; ‘great, but think about it this way’, was absolutely invaluable.”

“It gave me the confidence and the knowledge to go out and hire an interim CEO and COO; people who’ve worked at the largest soft fruit and software development companies in the country.”

The future of Cropdesk and Seasonal Jobs 

From the outset, Cropdesk was designed to be scalable, operable and useful to any farm of any size in any country and in any language. Similarly, Seasonal Jobs has been created to extend beyond the farming vertical. David hopes it will prove a game changer in getting Britain back to work over the coming years. 

To achieve these ambitions, Cropdesk will need to raise equity funding in 2021, enabling it to commercialise both platforms and scale rapidly. 

Innovate UK EDGE will continue working closely with David, supporting him as this Dorset business sets its sights on going global.
 

It would have been simply impossible without Innovate UK EDGE – they even managed to help me secure extended impact funding, worth an extra £25,000.”

David Treharne, CEO and founder, Cropdesk Technologies