Eight VentureLabs firms make ‘Ready to Rocket’ lists

Three start-up companies participating in the Simon Fraser University-led VentureLabs®Venture Acceleration Program were selected from more than 300 candidates Feb. 26 for this year’s 13th annual Ready-to-Rocket list of private B.C. technology companies with the greatest potential for growth.

The VentureLabs member companies are PHEMI Health Systems, Semios and SFU spinout Lungpacer Medical.

The list’s creator, Vancouver tech consulting firm Rocket Builders, has named five other VentureLabs companies to its Emerging Rockets list of tech companies to watch in the years ahead.

The lists have proven to be accurate predictors of private companies that will likely experience significant growth, venture capital investment and/or acquisition by a major player in the coming year. They are the only such predictive lists in North America, requiring months of sectoral and company analysis. The lists cover three different technology sectors:  information and communications technology, cleantech and life science.

“The recognition of these companies is testament to the vision and perseverance of these entrepreneurial teams and our executives-in-residence, mentors and program staff who support them,” says VentureLabs Executive Director, Ian Hand.

“The National Research Council and the B.C. Innovation Council also play critical roles in backing programs contributing to emerging and ready-to-rocket company growth.”

PHEMI, in the life science sector, is a process automation and big-data platform company that unlocks patient data to improve clinic productivity, patient outcomes and medical research.

Lungpacer, also in the life science sector, has developed a medical device that helps mechanically ventilated intensive care unit patients return to normal breathing faster.

Semios, in the cleantech sector, is a leading creator and developer of pheromone-based pest control solutions.

Source: http://www.sfu.ca/sfunews/stories/2015/eight-venturelabs-firms-make-ready-to-rocket-lists.html

Lessons from 3 Hot Cleantech Companies

Semios combines wireless technology, machine-to-machine communication, and pheromones for superior agricultural pest control. Founder and CEO Michael Gilbert – a chemist with experience in pharmaceuticals – set out to find a more efficient way for growers to use pheromones. While pheromone-based solutions have the benefit of being non-toxic (they control pests by disrupting their mating processes), they can also be expensive. Through partnerships with investors who understand wireless technology, Gilbert devised a system that enables growers to monitor for (and react to) pests electronically. This technology allows for the more precise application of costly pheromones.

In addition to pests, Semios helps growers monitor and manage blights such as frost, disease, and less-than-optimal soil conditions.

Why it’s hot: Semios makes our list because it lives up to an adjective that seems to be used all too freely these days – innovative. Descriptions of its orchard-management system – which involves tiny cameras, remotely-dispersing canisters of pheromones, and an array of electronic data-collection apparatus – sound like the stuff of science fiction. Novelty aside, the company has the potential to solve massive agricultural challenges in a safe, green way. And, as Michael Gilbert has pointed out, with pesticide regulation increasing, the time is right for alternative solutions.  Investors seem to agree.

A 2013 Ottawa Citizen article describes the international enthusiasm for Semios. James Maynard (chief executive of Wavefront, an organization that helped Semios gain exposure by arranging tours and helping with marketing) succinctly described the reception Gilbert received in South America. “Word had gotten out ahead of Semios,” says Maynard. “There were people waiting to meet them.” The positive buzz continued in 2014, when the company won a lucrative award from Verizon and attained a spot on the Ready to Rocket list (a good predictor of success in the B.C. tech world).

The Lesson: The success of Semios demonstrates the potential benefits of committing to a wildly-inventive idea. While many would have abandoned a plan that combines elements from seemingly incongruent fields – wireless technology, machine-to-machine communication, and green agriculture – Gilbert made it work. He found the right investors. He benefited from the talents of niche marketing experts – those at Wavefront, leaders in wireless research and commercialization – and the support of the VentureLabs Accelerator program.

For those working in fields perceived as risky (such as cleantech), a big idea is far more likely to succeed with support from those who have overlapping areas of interest and complementary expertise. Finding this support may mean extensive exploration of the resources at your disposal.

Source: http://www.gnowit.com/blog/lessons-3-hot-cleantech-companies

Real-time agriculture: The connected farming revolution

Chemical-free pest control
“Full orchard network coverage” is a term you don’t hear often. But it’s what Semios, a Canadian farming technology company, promises. More than just soil and water monitoring, the company claims its systems can trap, count and monitor pests, allowing farmers to set alerts and thresholds and even trigger the release of EPA-approved pheromones that disrupt pests’ mating cycles. It’s yet another case of how long-term, imprecise forecasts are being replaced by real-time field monitoring and targeted, automated responses.

Source: http://www.ericsson.com/industry-transformation/real-time-agriculture-connected-farming-revolution/

The Internet of Things Is Changing How Your Food Is Grown — and That’s a Good Thing

The agriculture industry, just like any other business, is always looking for ways to maximize yield, minimize risk, and improve efficiencies.

To reach those goals, agriculture and tech companies are increasingly teaming up to implement Internet of Things, or IoT, technologies — sensors, software, and data analytics — to make the business of growing food more efficient, and thus more sustainable.

Growing crops and controlling pests with IoT
Fellow Fool Maxx Chatsko recently wrote that Monsanto (NYSE: MON  )  is using IoT tech to analyze soil, climate, and weather data and then make predictions on that information for specific yield estimates and planting plans.

The company uses a program called FieldScript to analyze each farmer’s unique field characteristics, and then provides a specific prescription-planting plan. Farmers download the plan to an iPad app called FieldView to see real-time maps of their planting.

Monsanto says this system results in less seed being planted in low-potential areas and more seed in high-potential areas. Once the crop is harvested, the data are submitted to Monsanto to help create an even better prescription for the next year. This “precision agriculture” market is valued at $1.3 billion in the U.S. right now and is expected to grow at more than 6% annually through 2017, according to IBISWorld.

It’s not just crop-growing that benefits from IoT tech. A company called SemiosBIO uses sensors in trees to create a better system of orchard pest control. The company makes boxes with sensors, cameras, and insect pheromones that are hung in orchards and connected by a cellular network.

Farmers can monitor insects online using the camera and sensors, and set scheduled releases of the pheromones to confuse the mating habits of the insects and drastically reduce the amount of pests. SemiosBIO’s technology can significantly decrease the amount of pesticides used, or even eliminate the need for them in some cases. The company also has technology to remotely monitor frost, leaf wetness, and soil moisture, and can send real-time notifications of changes to farmers.

Equipment improvement
Agriculture equipment is also being influenced by the Internet of Things.

IoT sensors can transmit data from the field to farmers in real time. Source: General Electric.

A company called TempuTech uses its own sensors and General Electric‘s  (NYSE: GE  ) IoT software to monitor grain silos, conveyor belts, and grain elevators. The system allows farmers to find issues with equipment before they become major problems, and to receive real-time notifications when something does go wrong. For example, the sensors and software can tell when a part of a grain conveyor belt is heating up, and make changes before a potential fire starts.

GE says IoT sensors can even be used on tree branches to detect how much a branch is sagging, and thus predict yield.

John Deere has its hand in the Internet of Things as well. The company’s Field Connect system monitors air and soil temperature, wind speed, humidity, solar radiation, rainfall, and even leaf wetness, and then sends wireless notifications farmers can view on their computers or mobile devices.

The serious benefits of IoT agriculture
Making agriculture processes more efficient isn’t just about helping farmers and making companies more money. These technologies can have serious benefits for feeding the world and conserving water as well.

“Agricultural technologies could increase global crop yields as much as 67% and cut food prices nearly in half by 2050,” according to the International Food Policy Research Institute. That’s important, because food prices are expected to increase in coming decades due to climate change and increased global population. These efficient agricultural technologies could help reduce food scarcity by as much as 36%, according to IFPRI.

Something as straightforward as using connected technology to help farmers irrigate effectively could reduce water used for agriculture, saving farmers money and helping protect one or the world’s most valuable resources.

It appears, then, that Internet of Things technologies are doing much more than just connecting our wrists and cars to the Internet. And this is only the beginning.

Source: http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/12/12/the-internet-of-things-is-changing-how-your-food-i.aspx

Surprise: Agriculture is doing more with IoT Innovation than most other industries

Pest Control

As the organic movement gains popularity, the food and agriculture industries have taken increasing interest in finding effective and relatively inexpensive alternatives to pesticides.

Pheromones are particularly useful when they are paired with the power of IoT. Wireless sensor networks like that of Semios monitor pest counts, and when it detects that the pest population is too high, its metered pheromone delivery system automatically activates and disrupts the mating patterns of pests. This minimizes, and in some cases completely replaces, pesticide use.

Source: http://venturebeat.com/2014/12/07/surprise-agriculture-is-doing-more-with-iot-innovation-than-most-other-industries/

EPA Approves Three New Moth Mating Disruption Products

Semios, provider of real-time agricultural information and precision pest management tools, has been given EPA approval for three aerosol pheromone products that disrupt the mating of codling moth and oriental fruit moth.

“Our new formula performs extremely well at lower temperatures, emitting a drier mist that disperses quickly across an orchard,” said Michael Gilbert, CEO of Semios.

The pheromone aerosol dispenser is part of a custom designed controller and sensor network that gives farmers remote access to the conditions in the field 24/7.

Once hung in the trees, the Semios in-field sensors monitor the number of pests and combine this with wind and temperature conditions to optimize pheromone deployment. Most common is a metered puff every 15 minutes, 12 hours a day, during evening and nighttime hours through the growing season.

The combination of remote access to the fields 24/7 and the aerosol trigger release means farmers can deploy the right amount of pheromones only when needed, making it more effective and a less costly alternative to pesticides. Semios is the only pheromone dispenser that can be controlled remotely.

“We deployed Semios pheromones on 35 acres this past season and did not need to use any pesticides on this crop, however a separate control block that we established needed multiple sprays, said Manus Boonzaier, farm manager for Canada’s largest grower and packer of apples, said. “It was clear the pheromones were highly effective in disrupting the codling moth.”

Pheromones confuse the male insect so it is unable to find the female to fertilize the eggs, thus diminishing pest populations without killing the pests or using toxic substances. Codling moth is the number one global pest of apples and pears, and the oriental fruit moth is the second.

By switching from pesticides to pheromones, farmers worldwide can produce a safer product with less toxicity to the fruit, workers and environment. As the pheromone only targets the specific pest, pollinators and other beneficial insect species are not affected. Semios also offers organic-eligible pheromones.

Source: http://www.growingproduce.com/fruits/epa-approves-three-new-moth-mating-disruption-products/

Remote pest management with automated traps

With an electronic trap and wireless network, growers can spend less time scouting in the orchard.

By Peter Mitham

(Right) SemiosBio’s insect traps are equipped to wirelessly transmit information regarding insect counts to growers. (Left) The SemiosBio’s wreless network enables growers to remotely control pheromone puffers to fine tune insect control. (Photos Courtesy of SemiosBio Technologies Inc.

A decade spent developing pheromones for pest management underscored the importance of these chemicals for Michael Gilbert, president and CEO of British Columbia’s SemiosBio Technologies Inc.

But at a cost of up to $5,000 a kilogram, pheromones are also one of the costliest pest control products on the market, making targeted deployment key to cost-effectiveness.

Ideally, growers would obtain information directly from their orchards, by wireless transmission from traps that record insect activity by camera or other sensing device. Insect activity would trigger the release of pheromones at a critical time.

Semios also works with precision control systems for bedbugs, but the challenge of developing agricultural applications turned out to be interference from the crops themselves.

While digital information systems have fine-tuned growers’ understanding of many aspects of their operations, a simple barrier has long stood in the way of wireless technologies for orchards: the orchard canopy.

Wireless networks operate at frequencies of 900 MHz and 2.4 GHz, and both are disrupted by the waves that leaves generate while fluttering in the breeze.

As part of a consortium that also included the University of British Columbia, Okanagan Kootenay Sterile Insect Release Program and the University of Guelph, Semios received approximately Can.$10 million from Sustainable Technology Development Canada, a federally backed research foundation,  to address the problem of canopy interference.

The company spent two and a half years working with 20 engineers developing a wireless network adapted to the specific conditions of specialty crops.

The system operates on a combination of solar and battery power to transmit data, including climate data in and around the canopy, from the orchard to the grower.  The presence of pests such as codling moth is tracked via traps equipped with cameras, which monitor activity and allow insect counts without physical inspection.

A weather station is located every 100 acres, a trap every 10 acres, and pheromone puffers are distributed at a rate of one per acre.

The data allow growers to fine-tune pest-control measures, such as pheromone releases.

“You want to have that localized, in-field data,” Gilbert said, explaining the rationale for the project. “We argued that if you had a wireless network that could communicate with the dispenser, you could time the deliveries remotely, and then we came up with a trap to determine when you should dispense the pheromones.”

While there are no firm numbers on potential cost savings to growers, Cara Nelson, general manager of the Okanagan Kootenay Sterile Insect Release Program, said the system could help reduce the cost of controlling codling moth. (The program’s activities are funded by property taxes.)

“If it shows that it could be done for less money, and provide the same or better service, then it would be fantastic,” she said. “We are hopeful that it will be something that could reduce the cost for our stakeholders.”

Semios provides the service to 50 growers in Canada, while Wilbur-Ellis Co. makes it available in the United States, where about 20 farms have signed on. More than 2,000 acres in Washington, Idaho, and Michigan subscribe to the service, at a cost of $150 an acre.

“This thing is operational out in the middle of an orchard in the middle of nowhere, with no infrastructure,” said Greg Pickel, manager of the Yakima branch of Wilbur-Ellis. “You can basically build the system and it’s operational. That’s what intrigued us. That’s a leap over the systems that are available. We look at a lot of different systems, but this one truly gives a farmer the ability to get a micro look at his orchard.”

The value to growers lies in the finer grain of information that emerges, and the promise of savings as pest management costs—both for labor and materials—drop. Pickel said this in turn promises to boost orchard productivity.

“You don’t have to run out there to make your decisions,” he said. “You could literally get up and start your day downloading information to help you make those key management decision before you even head out the door in the morning.”

And make no mistake—growers will still have to head into the orchard, but Pickel said Semios’s system gives them a better idea of where to focus their efforts rather than having them spend time looking for trouble.

“This system does not replace eyes in the field, but it would definitely give you direction,” he said. “It removes the guesswork.”


Automated trap simplifies research

by Richard Lehnert

Researchers at Michigan State University used the SemiosBio automated “camera trap” monitoring system last season as a research tool.

According to Dr. Larry Gut and his associate Peter McGhee, besides wanting to see what insects land on their sticky traps, they want to know when they land.

“We want to find out when insects fly,” Gut said.

While a grower might use the system to detect when damaging insects first appear in an orchard, and thus may only need one picture every day, the researchers used their camera trap to take several pictures each day.

“I’m trying to relate low temperatures and insect activity,” Gut said. “Most insects don’t fly under 60˚F.,” he said. So, when using aerosol puffers for mating disruption, for example, it makes sense to synchronize the emissions to the time of insect activity.

Using the Semios system allowed them to make repeated observations of several traps without physically visiting them. Pictures were transmitted to the computer by cell phones connected in a repeater line-of-sight network. Using the Semios computer program, McGhee said, photographs of the sticky trap cards could be examined and insects on the trap “marked” by clicking with the mouse, McGhee said,.

The sticky card could be viewed repeatedly, without having to physically scrape off insects counted previously.

In their research, traps were located next to orchard weather stations so insect activity could be correlated to time, temperature, wetness, etc.

Two companies offer automated lepidoptera monitoring traps, McGhee said. One is SemiosBio (semios.com/ipm/) and the other Spensa technologies with its Ztrap www.spensatech.com.


Source: http://www.goodfruit.com/remote-pest-managment-with-automated-traps/

Jasper IoT Success Story: Semios

Semios delivers a precision farming platform that deploys an automated pest management system using pheromones to disrupt insect mating cycles—giving farmers a cost effective solution that eliminates the need to manually inspect traps or spray pesticides. Jasper automation provides Semios with real-time visibility into field conditions so it can remotely monitor and fix issues that happen in the field. Eliminate toxic pesticides – deploy alternatives, pheronomes, meter delivery and target release- less toxic more cost effective.

Source: http://www.jasper.com/customers/customer-success

Canadian Apple Orchard Taste-Tests the IoT

Semios has brought connectivity and near-real-time pest monitoring to the farm, helping farmers to gain visibility and reduce reliance on pesticides.

By Mary Catherine O’Connor

Algoma Orchards, located in Newcastle, Ontario, is no rinky-dink farm. In fact, it’s the largest privately owned grower and packer of apples in Canada. The company maintains 750 acres of trees, a packing plant and a juice factory onsite, and imports apples from Chile in order to maintain a year-round supply. The company also conducted a test last summer of an Internet-controlled pest-management system that is simultaneously high- and low- tech.

The technology, developed by Vancouver-based Semios, is high-tech because it uses networks of sensors, cameras and communications equipment to protect orchards, vineyards or any high-value crop from highly destructive pest insects. However, it’s also low-tech, since the manner in which it controls those pests is by releasing pheromones to confuse and disrupt the inserts’ mating rituals.

The Semios pheromone dispenser contains an IEEE 802.15.4 wireless radio used to link it to the Semios software hosted on a central server.

Algoma’s farm manager, Manus Boonzaier, isn’t particularly concerned with how high or low the technology deployed on the farm might be—he only wants it to work and to help him run the farm more efficiently. “Up until now, we’ve been fairly conventional,” explains Boonzaier, referring to the farm’s practices, which include the use of chemical pesticides and other practices that are prohibited on farms operating under organic farming standards. “But we try to minimize pesticide use due to the high cost [of pesticides] and the long re-entry period.”

Re-entry refers to the amount of time that farmers must stay out of a freshly sprayed field or orchard, under mandate from Canada’s Ministry of Agriculture, due to the toxicity of certain chemicals. After applying some pesticides, farmers cannot work in an affected area for a full 30 days. Because pesticides are sometimes applied during a period of fast growth within the orchard, Boonzaier notes, this can be a problem since it does not allow him and his crew to perform the hand-thinning necessary to maintain optimal tree health.

Using pheromones instead of pesticides to control pests is one way to enable greater accessibility for hand-thinning, Boonzaier says, but pheromones applied at Algoma have not proven as effective as pesticides. He believes that is because the pheromones are packaged in wax, designed to soften in sunlight and expel the pheromones over a period of 90 to 120 days. By design, these release the highest amount of the pheromones mid-day, since the bottles heat up in the sun. But for codling moths, Boonzaier says—significant pests in Algoma’s apple orchard, and in most apple orchard everywhere—”it’s the nighttime when you need to get at these moths.”

Algoma Orchards is testing Semios’ technology as part of a three-year grant program that Semios was awarded by Sustainable Development Technology Canada, which supports the development of environmentally friendly technologies. Last summer, to monitor and control the farm’s codling moth population, Semios installed its camera-equipped insect traps, wireless sensors and pheromone dispensers across a 35-acre section of the orchard. No insecticides were used in this section. A 30-acre control section was sufficiently distant so that none of the Semios pheromones would enter it, and none of the pesticides used in the control section would contaminate the section in which Semios’ technology was being evaluated.

The camera traps monitor for pests, sending the images daily via a low-power network built on the IEEE 802.15.4 protocol to Semios’ gateways installed in the field, which then forward the images to a Semios server over a cellular network. Farmers conventionally place codling moth traps throughout their orchards. A pheromone that attracts male moths is emitted from inside the traps, and a farmer manually checks the traps roughly every two weeks, says Michael Gilbert, Semios’ CEO. This gives them an idea of how many of the moths are present in the orchard. Once a critical threshold is reached, they decide whether to spray an insecticide, pheromones or both, in order to control the moths. By logging onto the Semios software via the Internet, however, farmers can check the traps daily. “That granularity allows us to make real-time decisions” and respond to the moths by beginning to spray pheromones as soon as that critical threshold is reached.

The pheromones are mating triggers for the male codling moth. Essentially, when they are sprayed throughout the orchard, the male moths go into sensory overload, stymieing their search for a mate. In that way, the population can be controlled.

The Semios moth trap contains a camera that takes images of the trap’s interior daily, and then forwards the image to the Semios software.

Once the decision to spray is made, Semios triggers its remotely controlled pheromone sprayers by sending the command over its cellular link to the gateways on the farm, which send the commands to the individual sprayers via the local network. Spraying generally takes place at night, when the moths are active and looking for a mate.

Semios also installs a weather station at each farm in order, to determine whether high winds or low temperatures will likely keep codling moths from traveling. In those conditions, the pheromones are not sprayed.

The Semios system worked so well, Boonzaier says, that he did not need to apply any pesticides in the Semios block to control pests last summer. The control block, in which no pheromones were used, did require pesticide applications.

Gilbert says Algoma was one of more than 50 farms across Canada—mostly apple orchards—that were involved in the grant program. “The goal is to de-risk the adoption of our technology for farmers,” he says, and to provide tangible results to farmers to hopefully convince them to invest in the Semios system.

According to Semios, the company has already deployed its pest-control systems for moths and other insects at 150 sites throughout Canada, the United States and the European Union, including three of the top five largest tree fruit, nut and grape farms in the United States. The firm charges an annual fee of $150 per acre, which includes all use of equipment, software, data and pheromones.

Source: http://www.iotjournal.com/articles/view?12381/

Congratulations to SemiosBIO, #3 in 2013’s Most Innovative Companies in B.C.

Even with increased regulation on pesticides in North America, Canada still tolerates significantly more toxins on our crops than Europe, which means we miss out on business when exporting our harvests. Add to that the need for more effective, economical and sustainable pest management and the agricultural sector is facing a sea change.

Enter Vancouver-based SemiosBIO Technologies Inc., which since 2009 has offered SemiosNET, a pest management system for farming that is devoid of neurotoxins. Camera-equipped traps that monitor pest activity are placed throughout a field or orchard, approximately one for every hectare. A central hub then delivers this information, as well as weather data, to SemiosNET software that both records the data and manages the devices. Growers and their consultants then monitor their crops in real time and isolate insect pressure on a precise area, then use remotely controlled dispensers (approximately two per hectare) to spray pheromones; these manipulate the insects’ communication pathways, confusing them so that males can’t find females and the bugs can’t reproduce. In addition to being non-toxic, the pheromone treatments actually cost less than traditional pesticides.

Michael Gilbert, a chemist and chief scientific officer at SemiosBIO, credits the company’s coup in bringing this product to market to good timing: it perfected its alternative to toxic pesticides just as the machine-to-machine technology at the heart of the SemiosNET system became available.

SemiosBIO now has 22 employees, $6 million in capital investment behind it—plus a recent $2.8-million injection from the federal government—and 25 systems in the field in Canada, covering about 1,000 hectares of crops. This year it projects more than 40 systems in Canada, five in the U.S., five in Europe and up to 10 in Latin America. “The company is in a land grab,” says Gilbert. “We want acres.”

– BC Business, by Kate MacLennan