Motorleaf’s ‘Nest for next-gen agriculture’ signs 500 Startups as lead investor

Montreal’s Motorleaf has signed 500 Startups Canada as its lead investor in a round that could go as high as $1.1 million.

The startup’s plug-and-play hardware monitors crops and collects data on air temperature, humidity, light, water, temperature, PH and nutrient levels, and more, connecting growers to their crops. ReadWrite’s Cate Lawrence described the company’s technology as “Nest meets Lego for next-gen agriculture.”

Farmers and growers can connect any number of growing equipment, including lighting hardware, feeder pumps, AC or heating, and start automating their operation in seconds. They can automate the delivery of PH and nutrients through timer settings or actual live grow conditions, and monitor it all through the startup’s software interface.

CEO Alistair Monk told MTLinTECH that he’s confident the funding round will max out at $1.1 million in the end. It was originally slated to be worth about $995,000, but increased interest from investors changed that.

“Raising $1.1 million gives us the best chance possible to focus on whats important, which is our go-to-market strategy, work on our amazing product and relieve some of the pressure that limits the ability to work on the product,” he said. “It also increases the amount of people that we can bring onto our team.”

Motorleaf will use the cash to hire new talent and spend on marketing, which Monk said the company has never really done.

Motorleaf formerly participated in the FounderFuel accelerator program.


500 Startups Canada’s David Dufresne confirmed that the investment firm is taking the lead on the deal.

“We really like Ally and Ramen and I was able to see their progress in FounderFuel’s last cohort, both in what they built and how they pitched it,” Dufresne told MTLinTECH. “Getting deeper we got excited about the potential of the market. I think it’s a still new and relatively unknown market that’s evolving quickly and they have an opportunity to become one of the major software players. I like the hardware but I like the long-term potential of it becoming the cloud-based OS for that sector.”

“I can say they’re getting a lot of partners and there’s a few potential acquirers. They need this round quickly because they need to build a venture and get going. They have a lot of interest,” he added.

Motorleaf’s tech can monitor a crop area anywhere from a tiny garden to five acres. It’s for anyone, hobby or professional grower alike. “It’s for anyone growing anything anywhere using any equipment up to five acres,” said Monk.

The story goes that cofounder Ramen Dutta was set to go on a vacation and he needed to buy some technology where he could monitor his crops while he was away. He couldn’t find anything on the market and decided to build his own product, which could automate “a range of appliances such as the water chiller and water level, air temperature, webcam, heating, and cooling.”

“The funny thing is he didn’t set up to do this because he wanted to build a company,” said Monk. “He went shopping for a solution assuming there would be a Google Nest for indoor agriculture and there wasn’t, which frankly is ridiculous. So he started building one.”

The most impressive function of the tech for Monk might be its ability to sense the correlation between atmospheric conditions and nutrient uptake. The water reservoir environment is as important as the open air environment that plants need, and has the food that feeds them. Motorleaf measures how much of those nutrients crops are taking up so growers can see on the interface whats happening “above and below the water” at the same time.

At the same time, Monk is quite direct in saying that while his sector is “on the rise,” it’s in fact lagging behind others. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, which Motorleaf is building into its system as a key component, is not something that one can find in the majority of indoor greenhouses or indoor farmers. “But you can find that in a bloody vacuum cleaner.”

“Whats more important?” said Monk. “An effortlessly clean floor or the ability to maximize productivity, lower cost and improve yield on things that feed people?”

Monk used the example of the microwave, a monstrosity that weighed hundreds of pounds when it first came out in the 1940s. Today one can press a button and the machine understands how it should treat whatever someone put into it, like popcorn.

“Why can we not envision a future where somebody who’s growing cherry tomatoes can have machines that will look after those them with the most up-to-date grow recipes within the type of environment you’re growing in? That’s what were building. It’s an operating system that makes it easier to grow anything.”

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