Student-owned agri-tech startup gains business boost from Microsoft

19 December 2019

RH Innovation
(L-R) Soil consultant Bryan McLeod, and RH Innovation’s Daniel Blair, Rahat Hasan and Tyler Crabtree.

A student-based agri-tech startup company that has developed an inventive way to measure moisture, salinity and fertiliser content in soil has been accepted into a startup programme run by tech giant Microsoft.

RH Innovation, which was set up by five students from the University of Waikato, has been accepted into the Microsoft for Startups programme, and as a result they will receive more than $30,000 to boost their business, and will have access to Microsoft’s cloud system, sales and marketing team.

CEO of RH Innovation and engineering PhD student, Rahat Hasan, says being accepted into the programme is confirmation their business is on the right track.

“I am only aware of one other startup company in New Zealand that is part of this programme. It just validates all the hard work we’ve been doing,” he says.

Mr Hasan, and current and former university students Tyler Crabtree, Bismarck Simeon, Daniel Blair, and Cooper Stephenson, have developed a system that informs farmers when to add nitrogen or water to soil, improving farming practices and taking out the guesswork.

They’ve been working closely with soil consultant, Bryan McLeod, who will help the team distribute their product to farmers and agribusinesses once it’s ready to go on the market.

“We use cost effective sensors to effectively gather information, which is then stored in our database and is readily available to clients through the Cloud,” says Mr Rahat.

“When it comes to applying either nitrogen or water to soil on the farm, farmers typically base their decisions on what has worked or not worked in the past. The ability to accurately use data and apply a science-driven approach is important.”

He says they measure soil and temperature at two different depths via a probe. Used alongside a smartphone app they’ve created, and a cloud-based recommendation system, they’ve formulated a way to tell farmers when to, or when not to, apply either nitrogen or water.

“This saves a lot of time, guesswork and money for farmers,” says Mr Rahat.

“The software also works with our GPS enabled device that can accurately locate and deliver mapping solutions to farmers in real-time.

“And our system includes a financial model that provides recommendations on cost-savings and benefits that affect productivity and profitability.”

Mr Rahat says if their business shows signs of good progress after a year on the Microsoft for startup programme, they are eligible for a further US$120,000 in Azure credits, which can be used on Microsoft’s public cloud computing platform.

“Getting to that point will show that we are more than just another startup company. It’s a sign that we’re on the road to success.

“As the tech industry in the region continues to grow, it’s safe to say we’re in the right place and it’s an exciting time to be part of the industry.”

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