Publication, Jan 2016: Geoprospectors auf

Thanks to technologies also used in archaeological prospection, Austrian startup Geoprospectors aims to improve the world of agriculture and precision farming. 

We caught up with Matthias Nöster, a.k.a the business guy, to talk about the company’s beginnings, their game-changing concept, and the most important aspects of their entrepreneurial journey. Although it’s a high tech device, complete with a sleek web interface, Geoprospectors Topsoil Mapper isn’t of the Amazon-best-seller-gadget type. The system consists of a sensor unit that can be mounted on a tractor’s standard clutch, which can be used to map out the structure of the uppermost soil layers. Electromagnetic induction and other technologies allow visualizing and quantifying variations in soil characteristics, such as compaction, water saturation and soil composition. All of these variables can be viewed on a terminal inside the cab. The system provides real-time data that helps the farmer to determine the suitable use of his towed machinery, and thus to get better tillage outcomes. So, how did that tech gem come to life? 

Starting up Like all good tech stories, Geoprospectors started with some obscure experiments in a garage. A garage that belonged to geophysicist Michael Pregesbauer, one of the company’s four cofounders, who together with business consultant Matthias Nöster, geophysicist Immo Trinks and archaeologist Klaus Löcker, invented the product. 

The quartet met about five years ago, at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Vienna. Experimenting with near-surfaces exploration technologies in archaeological prospection, they started looking for other potential fields of application that could benefit from their method. Agriculture came up as a relatively untapped market. The team started working on the concept of the Topsoil Mapper several years ago, yet Geoprospectors only became a company in May 2014. Their business plan was thoroughly planed around several different activities: Sales of their manufactured systems, consulting and prospection services, and also as a reseller of Canadian prospection technology, which was a side business. 

The business launched with 120,000 euros received in pre-seed program from the federal bank, Austria Wirtschaftsservice  (AWS), and 75,000 euro in equity from the four cofounders. A big consulting contract brought some extra cash flow in 2015, allowing them to further develop the prototype of the system. By the end of 2015, a business angel provided additional equity into the company for the marketing of the Topsoil Mapper.

Empowering  farmers Systems using their geophysical methods, electrical conductivity of the soil and electromagnetic induction, are not new in the industry. “There are some companies out there doing this kind of measurements as well, but they have some very obvious limitations, especially in terms of applicability,” says Nöster.

These companies, he explains, rely on expert systems, which are mostly devices that can be attached to a sledge or hand-carried, often applied by geophysicists. “They collect raw data and after paying a consequent amount of money, farmers eventually get some results” he says, adding that “farmers usually let them come at specific times when their fields are not in use, so the periods over which experts can conduct research are very limited and the results not always usable.”