Sector News

IoT innovator nets US$10.2m to digitally monitor and protect grain supply chain

October 24, 2020
Food & Drink

The grain processing sector is advancing with the use of data to drive decision automation, but it can be a costly and time-intensive endeavor. To this end, TeleSense has netted US$10.2 million in Series B financing for the development of its novel agri-food supply chain management technologies.

The industrial Internet of Things (IoT) innovator specializes in solutions that monitor real-time storage conditions, accurately predict future grain quality and prevent temperature-sensitive grain spoilage to save companies “billions of dollars in lost grain.”

“We had initially developed IoT solutions for the seafood industry and for detecting dangerous gases. When we met with grain storage companies they realized that our technology can also benefit them,” Naeem Zafar, CEO of TeleSense, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

“The ability to know real-time storage conditions, accurately predict future grain quality and optimize merchandising timing delivers higher profits.”

TeleSense utilizes advanced IoT, real-time environmental monitoring and cloud-based AI technology, to provide grain managers with actionable insights about their stored grain, so that they can make storage decisions “easily, quickly and accurately.”

The company’s sensors and app work together were developed for ease of use, for agri-food businesses to continuously monitor grain and automatically send issue alerts to users, mitigating spoilage, infestation and grain quality degradation.

The Series B round was led by Finistere Ventures, active in the agri-food investment space.  Rabobank’s Food & Agri Innovation Fund also participated as a co-financier.

Monitoring temperature-sensitive stock

Every year, tens of thousands of grain barges are shipped down the Mississippi River on their way to the port of New Orleans, where the grain will then be exported across global markets. Each of these barges may contain over a million dollars’ worth of grain.

Sitting on the river for weeks at a time, the barges are highly susceptible to spoilage due to fluctuating temperatures and the moist environment. “Until TeleSense, there was no way to know what happened inside these barges as they traveled along the river,” stresses Zafar.

“In TeleSense’s deployment of CellularSpears on a grain barge we were able to alert the customer of a barge full of grain heating up due to internal biological activity that is likely to cause spoilage and possible smoldering or even fire,” he comments.

In another use case, US$3 million dollars’ worth of canola was stored in a bin in Australia. Over a two-week period, TeleSense’s software saw a dramatic yet slow increase of temperature in one part of the silo.

“We indicated a potential hot spot and the user was able to confirm and empty the silo and refilled it in time saving this grain from being spoiled,” details Zafar.

TeleSense also provided monitoring for grass seed contract farmers for a European multinational company. “If the seeds are not stored at optimal temperature they lose the germination capability and they are docked or rejected once the farmer delivers the seed to the company,” says Zafar.

“This company suggested to all of their contract farmers to use TeleSense technology so that they know that all elements of the stored seed are within specifications and do not have to suffer the economic loss of being docked with a product that does not meet the specification of the buyer.”

Ease of use

Simplicity is highlighted as a core tenet of the TeleSense philosophy. “The most common compliment we receive from customers is that their TeleSense system is intuitive, useful, and easy to implement,” Zafar notes.

“For SensorSpears [within the TeleSense range of solutions] it is as simple as ‘insert in grain and walk away’ – these units come with a rechargeable battery that lasts two to five years based on the usage and update cycle.”

The company offers remote updates on these units and can monitor their functionalities or reset these systems if needed. “We knew that the key to scalability is simplicity. Our software app and mobile apps are simple, easy to configure and intuitive to use,” says Zafar.

Regional expansion targets

Recently establishing offices in Australia and Europe, the company will now focus on strengthening its global sales channel, speeding production and further building out its data science team.

“After successfully closing a US$10m Series B over Zoom calls while in quarantine, we now have the resources to comfortably scale,” Zafar tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

TeleSense recently appointed Soren Wolck Schrøder, former CEO of Bunge, Mark Palmquist, CEO of United Malt, and former CEO of GrainCorp, to its board of directors.

“Our targets for 2021 include expansion of our sales channel in the US, Northern Europe and Australia. We will be looking to expand in Latin America and Asia after that and will start building the channel in 2021.”

“Having spent more than 30 years in the grain industry, I am very impressed by TeleSense’s use of smart analytics and prescriptive actions to not only preserve quality, but also to optimize merchandizing decisions for maximum profitability,” Schrøder remarks.

Last February, venture capital platform AgFunder reported a 250 percent five-year growth in agri-food tech investments. Last year, start-ups within this sector raised US$19.8 billion in venture funding across 1,858 deals, according to its report.


By Benjamin Ferrer


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