Founder Dan Winson took home US$500,000 (A$679,049) from the US food and agritech competition Grow-NY for the company's technology that has led him to decide to establish a team in Rochester, New York, and begin testing the product with the agricultural machinery dealership, Monroe Tractor.
Monroe is a Case IH (International Harvester) dealer operating from a number of locations across New York State; the company's customers often face similar connectivity issues as Zetifi's Australian customers do.
Asked why he had decided to set up operations in the US given that Australia had plenty of regions where the tech was needed, Winson told iTWire: "Zetifi is setting up a branch office in Upstate NY because we’re on a mission to solve rural and remote connectivity problems globally.
"We'll be building a software development team in Rochester and commencing US pilots early next year in preparation for entering the US market later in 2021."
The Zetifi team. Dan Winson is on the far right. Supplied
Asked whether Zetifi had received any assistance from governments in Australia — there are many cases where Australians have been forced to leave the country and set up operations abroad because of a lack of government support — Winson said this was not the case with Zetifi.
"[We have] found Australian governments at all levels to be incredibly supportive of our vision and we’re incredibly grateful for the help we’ve received on our journey so far," he responded.
"[We have received] everything from an $8000 small business grant from Wagga City Council that enabled us to upgrade our 3D printer farm through to the $644,000 Accelerating Commercialisation Grant that is enabling us to bring our technology to market.
"While I’m not qualified to comment on the levels of support in the start-up sector at large I would have to say that there is no better country and no better time to be an ag-tech start-up.
"We’ve been involved in paid pilots with the departments of primary industry in the Northern Territory, NSW and Western Australia, all of which were critical to validating our tech and business case while generating early revenue that enabled us to get to a point where investors would take us seriously."
The company has run numerous trials of its technology with farmers in Victoria and NSW and is set to commercialise a viable model for eliminating mobile blackspots across Australia's primary production areas.
One such trial is supported by Birchip Cropping Group, a not-for-profit agricultural research and extension organisation led by farmers from Victoria's Wimmera and Mallee regions, with Zetifi beginning a pilot program that is claimed to be delivering cost-effective Wi-Fi solutions across many large farming properties while also solving the mobile blackspot issues between Birchip and Sea Lake.
The company said as part of its BCG trials, it was testing its ZetiCells and ZetiRovers, the former a long-range solar-powered public Wi-Fi hotspot and the latter a portable Wi-Fi repeater fitted to a piece of machinery or vehicle. The ZetiRover is also being tested along with Case IH Australia/New Zealand, with dozens of Case IH customers and several large Case IH dealerships involved.
"Fast and reliable in-field connectivity is key to realising the full potential of precision agriculture, and as a direct result of that, improvement in the profitability of farm businesses. That's a major concern for our customers so we're keen to work with companies that are devising ways to improve this connectivity," said Case IH Australia/New Zealand general manager Pete McCann.
"We've been impressed with what we've seen to date with the ZetiRover and its ability to enable a machine's telematics, remote support and data transfer capabilities, along with Wi-Fi calling, messaging, email and Internet access for the machine's operator. The solution Zetifi is bringing to the market is unique and the involvement of stakeholders at every step means a product that reflects the needs of the farmer, for the benefit of agriculture."
Asked for some details about the technology itself, Winson said: "Zetifi builds ruggedised long-range Wi-Fi devices for farmers. Our devices are 802.11 standards compliant and work with any and all standard Wi-Fi devices.
"The thing that differentiates us from competitors, like Ubiquiti and Cisco, is that we’re 100% focused on optimising our devices for installation in rural and remote areas.
"We make them extremely tough, keep them simple to deploy and manage and ensure they are power efficient. We’ve got patents pending around our power management system, including the ability to sleep and wake up repeaters using an in-band signal which enables us to deploy systems at scale without the cost of overbuilding solar and battery set-ups."
Grow-NY identifies, supports, and funds top food, beverage, and agriculture innovations globally; this year more than 260 companies entered the competition which offers prize money, mentorship, training, business development support, and tax incentives.