Nicholas Woon, co-founder and director of tech company Acuris Systems, talks about operating his business in startup mode and his plans for the future.

What does the business do?

Matthew Warner and I founded Acuris Systems, an analytics and automation company based in Auckland, in late 2016. Kiwifruit growers make crucial decisions that impact the quality of their yield and ultimately affect their seasons results on large areas of their orchards, from information formed from tiny sample sizes, so we provide a full population scan which gives growers a full picture of their crop and allows them to make data-driven decisions to optimise yield and mitigate risks.

How does Acuris Systems scan kiwifruit orchards?

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We employ a robotics system, to autonomously capture the huge amounts of fruit data and then process this data to form high-quality, accurate orchard information — all within a timely manner which provides growers with insights and the power to make decisions from definitive ground-truth data.

What was the motivation for starting the business?

When we talked to kiwifruit growers and others in the industry we found there was a huge problem in the sparseness of data within traditional methods of capturing it so we set out to change that. We started the business because we saw the industry shifting towards data-driven decisions in orchard practices and management.

Quality data is the consumable of precision agriculture, and we saw there were no viable solutions to collecting large amounts of this data in the market.

What's the current status of Acuris System?

We're in startup mode at the moment, pre-revenue. We have three companies signed up to our pilot programme, which we will launch in mid-September of this year, servicing a total of 100 hectares. I can't disclose our pilot programme customers but they are all based in the Bay of Plenty region.

How big is the opportunity for the business in this space?

Kiwifruit is New Zealand's largest horticultural export with over 12,000 producing hectares - a number that is increasing year by year. In the international context, Italy is a high producer of kiwifruit and is a market we aim to target in the coming years. While kiwifruit is currently our primary focus, we have plans to expand our technology to parallel industries, most notably grape and apple orchards.

What are your long term plans?

Kiwifruit is the industry we're trying to win first but long-term we definitely want to look at all of horticulture and agriculture as a whole. These principles apply to fruit, and even vegetables, and grapes in vineyards, apples, avocados, potatoes and onions, so our long-term plan is around how we can apply what we've learned from kiwifruit to the industries as a whole. In two years' time we expect to be servicing 1000ha of kiwifruit in New Zealand, and apple orchards and vineyards.

Acuris Systems' prototype manoeuvring and scanning a kiwifruit orchard. Photo / Supplied
Acuris Systems' prototype manoeuvring and scanning a kiwifruit orchard. Photo / Supplied

How much competition are you facing in this space?

There are some players in the space currently but we're looking at just the data collection side of the equation. There's competition in automation in agriculture industries, automating human labour processes. There are players in the robotic agriculture space, but none focused primarily on autonomous crop monitoring and data collection, to gain high visibility and insights of an orchard. We believe what we offer is completely unique to our competitors.

What is your focus for the rest of the year?

Our focus for the rest of the year is to deliver our pilot programme to the three customers we have signed up.

What advice do you give to others thinking of starting their own business?

Don't underestimate a customer's problem and how in depth you have to go to find the correct solutions. Your customer should be the prime contributor in shaping your solution so understanding their pain points is the key to building a product people love.