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Local company takes aim at wine growers

Time:2018-02-13 10:39wine - Red wine life health Click:

Halifax Regional Municipality Media HRM Chronicle East Coast

It hasn’t been that long ago, in fact it was just January, that a Nova Scotia startup company and a California-based firm merged with a plan to take aerial imaging, in combination with proprietary technology, to wine regions around the world.

The newly formed company, VineView, is based in Halifax with international operations headquartered in Napa Valley, Calif., and Toulouse, France, but management has ambitious plans to expand to wherever wine grapes are grown.

The company, already with customers in 12 countries, received $500,000 in funding on Friday from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s business development program to help with expansion plans.

The Canadian side of the operation, which was known as SkySquirrel Technologies Inc. prior to the merger, was a tech startup that had attracted a $3-million injection of funds in late 2017 — including a $2-million private investment from an Ontario-based investor and $1 million from Innovacorp, Nova Scotia’s venture capital organization.

In 2015, SkySquirrel was named one of the Canadian Innovation Exchange’s Top 20 Winners and received a Vintage Report Innovation Award. It was also reported the Nova Scotia company had acquired its French partner, Avidordrone, late last year and has been scaling up operations for the 2018 growing season across France even before the merger was completed.

VineView uses drone and airplane-based “hyperspectral imagery” to provide wine growers with essential information about the health of their grapevines. The specialized data allows growers to optimize grape yields, improve grape quality, manage irrigation and reduce damage from environmental factors like grapevine diseases and frost.

Richard van der Put, SkySquirrel’s founder and CEO, is now the CEO of VineView, while Matthew Staid, president of VineView Scientific Aerial Imaging prior to the merger, is the new company’s chief scientific officer.

Emily Ennett, VineView’s marketing and business development manager, says most of the ACOA fund the company received on Friday will be used to scale up its research and development. The company expects the money will be used to purchase a new aircraft in France, and some expensive drone and global positioning systems, which will be used for research and commercial projects.

“With our new technology, we’re able to collect the high-resolution images we were able to collect before from the drone, but now we are now able to get them from the airplane,” says Ennett. “So, we’ll be able to do more frequent flights and map much more efficiently — very large areas of wine regions in just a couple of days.”

Ennett says the new aircraft has not yet been purchased, but that is what VineView would like to do with this funding from ACOA.

“We’ll be able to collect a lot of data in a short amount of time,” she says. “There are benefits to that for the customer and also, down the road, for what we’ll be able to learn from the aggregate data.”

But VineView cannot exist on data and technology alone — the company needs to get the message out to grape growers and wineries.

Ennett says the company just welcomed its new vice-president of sales, Kim Sonnichsen. She is reportedly very familiar with the wine industry in general and the South African wine sector specifically. She will officially start her new job on Monday.

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