Hungarian Innovators in the AgriTech Cohort
Three companies represent Hungary in the AgriTech cohort of the X-Europe programme. Agroninja is revolutionising the measurement of cattle weight with its solution, SMAPP LAB is developing a digital pest trap, and Inventori Solutions is building a product to digitise farm business data.
The X-Europe programme, which helps deeptech startups with training, networking, and promotion, aims to boost startups to build investor and corporate relationships and also to connect the ecosystem across Europe. As a partner in the X-Europe consortium, Design Terminal plays an active role in these activities along with the four other consortium partners (The Next Web, Tech Chill, Growth Tribe, and F6S).
The AgriTech cohort focuses on solutions that aim to revolutionise agriculture with innovative, digital methods. We sat down to talk to the three Hungarian teams to learn about how X-Europe has been useful to them, understand their views on the openness of agriculture to innovation, and elaborate on the problems their products aim to solve.
Tamás Bodnár and his team at Agroninja became aware of the lack of data and tech-based solutions in agriculture recently, specifically in the area of weighing cattle herds, a challenging but essential process for farmers to consider the health and quality of their cattle while keeping costs low. As Tamás explains, “Weighing a living animal is not simple. However, this is essential information for the herd, as it will be one of the key factors to good quality meat. In addition, farmers can save costs [by] being conscious about [their herd’s weights].”
Agroninja’s solution to this challenge is a platform that can estimate the weight of animals with 95% confidence in just 20 seconds. “We created a cattle hub that handles measured data, such as weight, in an online cloud,” summarises Tamás. “This way, the obesity curve and development can be monitored and properly documented.”
The platform accomplishes this fast feat by analysing uploaded photos taken on a mobile phone
with an attached laser rangefinder. , Thanks to some strong progress in product development, this quick and easy weight-calculating platform is now also capable of measuring a herd’s heights and other physical specifications from those very same uploaded images.
Founded in 2017, Agroninja doesn’t want to be a single-product team. They would like to focus more broadly on addressing the lack of data-based decision-making in agriculture by broadening their product range.. Tamás notes one clear path forward for diversifying their product range: "We have started to deal with this problem regarding the cattle industry, but the same is true for the entire spectrum of animal husbandry."
X-Europe was the first programme they encountered focusing on the domain in which Agroninja operates - AgriTech. Agroninja has already sold its products in 15 countries, but only in small quantities so far. They hope to change that in part by participating in programmes like X-Europe “We want to meet relevant investors and industry players. We are even looking for potential partners with whom we can reach joint research results in the future,” states Tamás.
The team at SMAPP LAB is developing a family of digitised traps that can be used to track the swarming of moths and recommend defense mechanisms against various pests. Donát Posta and Anna Bereczki, co-founders of the startup, told us more about their product’s development and their expectations for the X-Europe programme.
There is a personal story behind SMAPP LAB’s product development process. Anna, whose father is involved in agriculture, faced the exposure of the family business to environmental factors on a daily basis. Anna and her fellow students initially began to develop a digitised solution to this problem. The trap that was born in those academic competitions, which has since been further developed and refined by the startup, saves time and work for farmers like Anna’s father. It even takes sustainability considerations into account, as SMAPP LAB’s traps ensure that pesticide is only applied in the smallest possible amounts when strictly necessary.
Although the company had seen through idea competitions that their product was a real help to farmers, they remained unsure that there would be enough market demand for the product. Thankfully, during the NAK TechLab incubation programme launched by Design Terminal and the Hungarian National Chamber of Agriculture, SMAPP LAB got a leg up on market demand testing through the opportunity to work with one of Hungary's largest agricultural companies, KITE Ltd. Subsequently, the National Stud Farm and Educational Farm Ltd. in Mezőhegyes also took notice of their product. "We have already sold the development to them on our own. And it was the first time that we did not sell the product, but the service," says Donát. “And now we are starting to open up to the international market. It’s a great path for us, I think.”
X-Europe participation is helping them along this path to the international market. “There are farmers in the surrounding countries, such as Austria, Slovakia, and Romania, with whom we have [had contact] before,” says Anna about the startup’s international successes thus far. “However, we want a bigger breakthrough this season and X-Europe will be the path for this. Our secret goal is to be able to appear on the market not only in Hungary, but also in Europe and possibly later on the American continent.” The networking opportunity that X-Europe provides to the participating European agricultural startups is especially attractive to SMAPP, as they hope to build relationships with startups who may be facing similar challenges. These relationships can provide knowledge about the environmental factors and endowments of other countries, which is key in the field (pun intended!) of agricultural development.
Inventori Solutions is a startup working to make agricultural supply chains more transparent, digitise customer inventory, and take product tracking to the next level. Team member Márk Ferencvári told us about the origins of their mission. One of their founders knew, based on agricultural experience, that the sector has administrative and audit difficulties. “His customers, small and medium-sized businesses, but even large companies, were quite at a fallback digitally. That’s why he came up with the idea, a new kind of technology that makes systems more reliable and even capable of eliminating fraud. Blockchain and another co-founder helped us.”
The team is constantly looking for programmes that can help them achieve their goals. Their main hope for X-Europe is to establish a corporate partnership. They are also happy to talk to investors, but that is not a primary priority for them at present.
“We want to help make agriculture more modern,” says Mark. “We want to digitise the everyday life of the actors of agriculture when it comes to stockpiling and production processes. Also for farm workers, retailers, or even retail chains.”
But how open is agriculture - a human pursuit that’s existed for thousands of years, to innovation? Mark believes that, in general, Hungarian agriculture is less open than other Hungarian sectors and international agricultural circles. Nevertheless, he's seen encouraging signs of progress in this area in recent years: market-leading companies are actively looking for these types of solutions, the number of public tenders for this is growing, and the generational shift is becoming more and more prominent in the sector.
According to Tamás Bodnár of Agroninja, implementing agricultural innovation is not an easy task; farmers are often difficult to convince and can take their time when making decisions. However, professional, innovative, cost-saving products like Agroninja’s, Inventori’s, and SMAPP LAB’s hold promise in overcoming these blockers to kick-start the digitisation of European agriculture. As Tamás puts it, “Early innovators need to start the whole trend. If they start using these products, it will be easier to modernise the whole sector.”