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How Ceres Imaging Won the Imagine H2O Challenge

At Imagine H2O, we select 10 of the most promising water technology businesses globally each year, and commit to providing each of them with a path to market through investor and customer introductions, mentorship, and visibility.

When we first heard of Ceres Imaging, we knew they were an excellent fit for our accelerator. By mapping and analyzing aerial images of crops, their product helps farmers save water and increase yield resulting in a very high return on investment. What we didn’t know yet was that we had found our 2016 Water Data Challenge winner.

From Snapshot to Story

Ceres Imaging, a startup founded at Stanford Graduate School of Business, provides a full picture of crop stress otherwise unseen by the naked eye. Without this information, water and fertilizer applications tend to be highly imprecise, resulting in a loss of yield and wasted money. Check out the aerial data Ceres Imaging is able to collect for an 160 acre almond orchard:

With snapshots like this, Ceres Imaging allows farmers to pinpoint areas of over and under-irrigation, identify plants requiring more fertilizer, and verify that irrigation pumps are being turned on at the correct time. The imagery diagnoses once overlooked and unseen problems, and allows for an overall savings of water and nutrients — and money for farmers.

Aerial imaging technology is not new. There are several competitors in the space. However, traditional aerial crop monitoring uses ‘NDVI’, a vegetation index that correlates to crop vigor. While this index is useful, it does not pinpoint causation for good or poor “greenness”. Ceres Imaging is able to provide this information using a proprietary energy balance model and sensor technique.

The Ceres Imaging approach enables specified mapping to address a farmer’s pain points: Am I over or under-irrigating? Where am I having water or nutrient application issues? To what extent has a disease encroached my vineyard? Having these actionable insights allows farmers to make decisions that can transform their farm’s water savings and yield.

Where am I having water or nutrient application issues? Am I over or under-irrigating? To what extent has a disease encroached my vineyard?

Building a Water Data Business
In creating their product, and perhaps more importantly, their business model, Ceres Imaging gets a lot right. First, they’ve done their market research to differentiate themselves from other ag-tech competitors. With a bird’s eye view of the competition, Ceres Imaging is positioning itself as a platform-agnostic technology that provides high quality data to farmers at an affordable price point. Early on, the team quickly realized it didn’t matter to farmers if their data was collected via drone or plane, leading Ceres Imaging to pivot to renting low-cost crop dusters.

Behind the product is a stellar team. Founder Ashwin Madgavkar is building Ceres Imaging with scientists and engineers with multidisciplinary backgrounds in astrophysics, hydrological sciences, remote sensing, and agronomy. The company’s technology is now being used by hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural land in California and Australia. This is just a fraction of the $24 billion dollar opportunity present for agricultural land management globally.

Beyond the impressive team, market research, and global product opportunity, Ceres Imaging has a clear and compelling pitch. When it comes to securing investors and customers, being able to communicate your strengths is fundamental.

These are some of the key qualities Imagine H2O evaluates every year when selecting our cohort companies and our annual challenge winner. Whether it’s a pre-seed, early stage, or more mature venture, being able to effectively demonstrate the kind of qualities that Ceres Imaging has is vital for success across every industry — and particularly in the water data business.