Tackling the global biodiversity crisis through matchmaking and AI – Agtelligence’s story
Not many people could take inspiration from protecting mangroves in Iran, and use it to build a start-up tackling the global biodiversity crisis – but that’s exactly what Nima Eskandari did.
He saw firsthand an opportunity to ‘combine agriculture with environmental science’ – and moved to the UK on an entrepreneur’s visa in 2014. He later launched Agtelligence – which connects corporate firms which have large ESG budgets, with farmers – who use the funds to improve biodiversity on their land. His solution combines the power of satellite and AI data, environmental science, and proprietary software.
William Rickard, co-founder of Agtelligence, and an environmental scientist, said: “Farming has a massive impact on the earth in terms of carbon, greenhouse gases and methane.
“But me, Nima and the team aren’t here to criticise anyone – we’re here to connect corporate organisations that support sustainable finance, with farmers who want to improve biodiversity at no cost to themselves – and gain another income stream.
“Our data is pretty advanced, but we’ve designed the tech platform to be really simple to use.”
And it’s important work. Analysts say that globally, we need to spend an extra £670bn per year to reverse the decline in biodiversity – known as the ‘biodiversity funding gap’. Around one third of the Earth’s soil has been degraded in 40 years and if this continues, biodiversity will plummet. According to William, this could lead to food shortages, droughts, civil unrest, and mass exoduses of people from developing countries. It would also increase the use of pesticides, which are fossil fuel-based.
“We’ve all got to act quickly and be transparent,” he said.
How it works
Agtelligence has started in the UK – where around 70% of land mass is agricultural – so they’ve prioritised that industry for maximum impact. Of a total 4 million hectares of land, about 30% is thought to be degraded in terms of biodiversity – making the UK among the worst 10% for biodiversity.
Agtelligence’s solution comprises five key elements:
- Satellite and AI data – Satellites generate a new snapshot of farmland every six days, and experts can use high-res tech to zoom in on areas of just 30cm². Agtelligence ‘trains’ AI tools to find areas of specific damage in fields, based on agreed definitions and ranges
- Identifying high impact sites for improvement – Experts combine this tech-generated data with ‘ground truth’ information and observations, to create a shortlist of sites which could be regenerated to support biodiversity
- ‘Matchmaking’ corporate firms with farmers – The team connects corporate firms and farmers. Businesses with ESG responsibilities pay for biodiversity improvements – passing money to farmers to make the changes, at no cost to themselves
- Software platform – Agtelligence has designed a software platform with dashboards, which enables stakeholders to measure, track and report on projects. Based on this data, experts can also make projections about how the land will improve in two years’ time. This gives everyone a ‘before and after’ showing the impact of biodiversity projects.
- Farmscore® – As part of this, Agtelligence has developed a scoring mechanism for each area of land, based on key sustainability criteria. Farmers log on to the website, and answer questions in those areas to provisionally see whether they might be eligible to receive biodiversity funding from a corporate.
Corporates pay Agtelligence for a combination of consulting services and a subscription to the software.
How Harwell has helped the journey
Harwell has been an important part of Agtelligence’s development.
Early on, the company received funding from the Harwell-based European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre (ESA BIC). Agtelligence used the money to develop the initial proof of concept, and fine tune their Minimum Value Proposition – which should be ready by Summer 2023.
Since then, Agtelligence has raised its Tech Readiness Level from 2-4 and become EIS-registered and is now in talks with potential corporate customers ahead of a full commercial launch.
Founder Nima Eskandari said: “Being part of the ecosystem at Harwell really is an excellent opportunity.
“You get access to business coaching, investment readiness, mentorship, legal and collaboration. There are workshops, events, and opportunities to reach out to investors. There are so many people here. You just don’t know who you’ll end up sitting next to in the coffee shop.”
Agtelligence has already used its data and system to map and ‘score’ every field within Hertfordshire – and plans to replicate this work across every field in the UK. The company is also growing preparing to recruit two more people in the first half of 2023.
His colleague William summarised the long-term vision: “Until now, we’ve seen a lot of corporates progress schemes which border on greenwashing,” he said. “But people are getting more discerning, and social pressure is now the main motivator for large companies to get ahead on biodiversity. Corporates need to look at processes within their value and supply chains.
“Biodiversity is on the edge of collapsing, and we just don’t have the time to make mistakes – farms, corporates and start-ups like us need to get this right.”