Cropt was founded in 2019 with a clear vision to change agriculture, one of the most conservative and least digitised areas of industry. They believed that by using big data and state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms, agriculture could become greener and more profitable at the same time, for the welfare of farmers, companies, our society and our planet.
As part of their journey on BlockStart’s Acceleration Programme, as a DLT/blockchain startup provider, they were looking for new opportunities for collaboration with end-user SMEs that could validate and help them improve their “ALLIANCE” blockchain solution.
We spoke with CEO Oskar Marko to know more about Cropt and their participation in BlockStart.
In one paragraph, what is Cropt?
Humanity is in need of innovative solutions to provide healthy food for its growing population. Improvements in agriculture were driven by innovations in mechanical engineering in the 19th century and chemical engineering in the 20th. Today, in the 21st century, it is IT that will push farming one step beyond and Cropt is here to bring high-tech concepts straight to the farmers.
Can you tell us how the idea for your startup began?
We first started working together as a team at university, where we developed advanced AI algorithms for yield prediction, seed selection and risk estimation. In 2017, we won the Crop Challenge, probably the most renowned competition for Big Data in agriculture organised by Syngenta, the world’s leading seed and agro-chemicals company. Our solution managed to increase the farmer’s profit for up to 25% based only on the smart choice of seed varieties for the local growing conditions. That’s when we truly realised how our solutions can change agriculture.
What is Cropt passionate about achieving?
Co-founders’ roots lie in engineering. We have PhDs in this area and we are thrilled to see things work. What is more, we are thrilled to see our solutions make a change. What we strive to achieve is full digital transformation of agriculture and all the related processes for the good of the humanity.
Who are the team members and what backgrounds do you have?
Cropt’s co-founders are Sanja Brdar and Oskar Marko. We worked together on many agricultural problems that we managed to solve using data analytics. We both have PhDs in this area and this helped us create state-of-the-art solutions that are pushing the boundaries of technology. However, the core machine learning algorithms are developed by a team of young and enthusiastic data scientists, while a team of experienced software developers stands behind our user-friendly platforms. We also have a strong business component with two advisors with an excellent track-record of start-up acceleration and technology transfer from academia to industry, Prof Vladimir Crnojevic and Prof Ivan Andonovic, while the company’s business development is led by Masa Mimica, who has immense experience with both industrial and EU-funded projects.
Can you tell us about the prototype you have developed with the support of BlockStart Acceleration Programme?
First of all, I have to say that I am very proud of our team for delivering a prototype in such a short time. In less than 2 months what was just a good idea, turned into a fully working platform for crop insurance capable for automatically detecting drought using satellite and climate indicators. Here BlockStart gave us huge support in both technical and business terms. However, I would like to emphasise BlockStart’s business-related consulting that helped us shape our business model and take a look at the product from more angles than one. By implementing the precious advice given by our mentor, Maja Zikic, we managed to fine-tune our relation with different stakeholders, strategies for revenue generation and the nuances in the way we should present the product to the future customers.
What were you most excited about in taking part of BlockStart Acceleration Programme?
There were several attempts to implement blockchain in agriculture and not many of them were successful. Sometimes they seemed like a forced marriage between the two. With crop insurance we saw an opportunity to implement this technology where it is actually needed and this made the whole project very exciting.
Which were the major challenges you have faced during the development and market/fit validation of your prototype?
As it usually happens with software products, we had mysterious bugs in the code. It is all right if the code breaks all the time, but when it breaks sometimes, then catching them is really painful. Fortunately, we found them literally hours before the deadline and everything worked well at the presentation. Businesswise, we struggled to find the appropriate business model that would allow quick scale-up of the solution. Here, interviews with various stakeholders proved valuable and after thorough brainstorming, an incredibly complex but simple to implement model was created, that proved to be beneficial for all the actors in the value chain.
What unique aspects does your company and the prototype you have developed have to offer to the market sectors/type of companies you wish to enter/sell and to the blockchain ecosystem in Europe, as a whole?
Due to the lack of trust and complex bureaucracy, crop insurance is one of the least popular types of insurance. In Western Europe, only 30% of fields are insured, while this number is even lower in the East (10%). The main reason for this is the lack of trust between farmers and insurance companies. Through BlockStart, we managed to develop a plug-and-play product that allows accurate, objective and transparent damage detection, where loss adjustment is based on data rather than human assessment. The product will hopefully draw more farmers into crop insurance, as this is the most efficient way of protecting the yields and profit, especially in the context of climate change that triggered many extreme weather events recently.
We would also like to believe that our product will inspire the European blockchain community to become more actively engaged in digital transformation of agriculture.
Is collaboration with SME adopters important for piloting your solution?
We believe that piloting our product is crucial for further development. It is often the case with IT companies that they deliver a perfect solution for a non-existing problem. We want the development of the ALLIANCE product to be steered by the needs of the end-users and not by the technology per se. Besides that, we would like to explore collaboration with stakeholders other than farmers and insurance companies, to see what products or services can be forked off our main idea.
Where do you see your company in 5 years?
I am an optimist by nature, so I would say that in 5 years I see Cropt as one of the most successful AgTech companies around. What I am certain is that we will never stop looking far ahead and creating state-of-the-art solutions for the future’s agriculture. Innovation is in the company’s roots and as a co-founder and CEO I have a mission and responsibility to never let it go.