The company Nordetect was ready to roll out a new product for rapid soil analysis to farmers in Europe. However, the entrepreneurs discovered a big challenge and had to re-saddle. Now the company will focus on water in, among other things, vertical agriculture and will challenge competitors such as the billion group Foss.
Entrepreneurs Keenan Pinto and Palak Sehgal have not only been far and wide geographically in trying to develop a scalable product for agriculture.
The founders of Nordetect, which is based in Denmark, have had to completely re-saddle on the segment that the first thought should bring them millions and be for the benefit of farmers on a global level.
However, the $ 2.2 million that entrepreneurs have raised since the founding of Nordetect in 2017 is not wasted. The owners have modified their product to now also reach another agricultural segment - namely the vertical.
"We have evolved from being a one-product company to being a tech company, and we strive to provide testing and analysis of water, soil, food, etc. We have proven that our chemistry and platform technology work, and we know that there is a demand for it in the agricultural and food industry," says co-owner and founder of Nordetect Palak Sehgal.
According to the two entrepreneurs, with their current product in water analysis for horticulture and vertical agriculture, they can reach a market potential of $30 million a year. However, they still believe that their original idea in the field of soil analysis can bear fruit in the long run, which is why they are hoping for a breakthrough.
"It's a market with a potential of $ 1.1 billion a year in soil analysis," says Keenan Pinto, who points out that Nordetect is also considering entering food analysis to prevent food waste.
Nordetect's product is intended for analysis of e.g. soil or water much faster than the practice that exists today. Faster analysis and testing of soil or water samples can ensure more efficient growth of e.g. Crops.
It can ensure farmers or vertical farms more efficient cultivation with lower costs if there is faster and better insight into the growth environment, which is why the two Nordetect founders assess that there is demand for their product.
From India to Denmark
The story of Sehgal and Pinto begins back in 2008 when they met studying for their bachelor's degrees at the Department of Technology in Manipal, located in southwestern India. Pinto moved from Mumbai, while Sehgal came from New Delhi.
After completing their bachelor's degrees, the two went on to master's programs in the UK and both ended up at Nottingham University specializing in plant genetics modification.
Sehgal subsequently returned to India to research biomedicine, while Pinto worked for a company that developed optical laboratory equipment. They both tell with enthusiasm about discoveries and developments in the research work.
"You basically visualized DNA. It was pretty cool stuff," Sehgal interrupts, while Pinto talks about his work.
The turning point for the Nordetect establishment came in August 2016. Sehgal visited Pinto, who had moved to Denmark to get closer to his family and work for the company Space10.
The two participated in a TechBBQ event at the Opera House in Copenhagen. The feeling of being among like-minded people struck the two entrepreneurs. There were dialogues about future dreams in technological innovation. The two felt that they had ended up in the perfect city to start something new.
"We had both found full-time employment, so we met in the evenings and on weekends to work at Nordetect. We only had our idea, but we were sure that if we could make it work, it would be magnificent," says Pinto.
Experiences in China
Although the two Nordetect founders found themselves comfortable in Denmark, they were given the opportunity to participate in Hax, an accelerator program in China, and in October 2017 they packed their bags and left. It was the first time they realized they had established a company.
"It just made sense and it looked real. We had to try Hax and let the product be tested and learn from entrepreneurs with big 'exits' behind it. It was inspiring and I thought if we did not grab it here opportunity now, then we might never try to develop a startup business," says Sehgal.
She is quickly complemented by Pinto, who says that in terms of hardware, China is not what Western countries expect. Previously, China was a place with affordable solutions, but now they could bring a quality that Nordetect could not get in Denmark for small quantities of products, Pinto points out.
"It has certainly been an interesting journey, especially because we did not do it the usual way. It was special that we moved to Shenzhen because companies will usually build hundreds of units before they even consider moving to China," he said.
In 2018, Pinto and Sehgal moved from Shenzhen to San Francisco as part of the program. Now the focus was on raising capital from investors in Silicon Valley.
Here, the two entrepreneurs were challenged on where and how to improve the product, and soon they felt ready to start thinking about sales.
The Need to Re-Saddle
The next step was to begin a global rollout of their product for rapid analysis of land for agriculture. However, it was here that they faced a challenge that changed their whole mindset. They found key differences in how countries analyze land and use the results.
Therefore, it became too complicated to calibrate the products differently to have a global breakthrough, and the two entrepreneurs had to take a few steps back to figure out how they could make their product scalable.
Sehgal and Pinto say that they felt they had made the wrong choice, but at the same time, they were convinced that there was a demand for analytical products in agriculture and came to the conclusion that it must be just as important to be able to make quick and frequent analysis of water in the same way as soil.
"Something clicked. These are the same nutrients we analyze in water. The analysis comes from water tanks, whether you are in Canada, the Netherlands, or Denmark. We could relatively easily change our product to work for water analysis," says Sehgal.
Although the product was calibrated differently, the concept was the same. It should be easy to use and give faster results to get the best nutritional balance in hydroponic cultivation such as vertical farming.
"The industry is aware of how important and significant small changes in soil and water conditions or lighting conditions are for growth. So the value in analyzing water is the same as for soil, but easier to make scalable globally," says Pinto.
The entrepreneurs used their networks in the Netherlands, Germany, and North America to discover that there was a demand for the product. While the ambitions are great for Nordetect, the founders are aware that they are up against companies such as Foss, which sells analysis equipment for more than 2 billion DKK / NOK per year.
"Where we think we are different is that we believe in larger fully automated systems and we believe in compact decentralized products. We think like a futuristic company, but we also look up to companies like Foss," says Pinto.
Focusing More On Customers
Nordetect currently has 11 employees, while expecting to be a company with 25 employees by the end of 2022. In 2021, they have added a new employee approximately every month.
The entrepreneurial company can produce about 2,000 chips a month for their product, allowing them to produce about 5-15 analyzers. According to the founders, the company is working to expand their production capacity as they are limited by chip production.
According to Pinto, the company is not currently focusing on the turnover, but on getting a stable production of their equipment and sending it out to the customers.
"We have a goal of reaching 50 customers over the course of this year, and I definitely think we'll reach that - and maybe more. We're also looking at what kind of subscription model we want to use," he says.
The two entrepreneurs say that they will continue to use Copenhagen as a research environment in the future, but where their commercial headquarters will be located has not yet been decided. However, the founders say they see particular potential in the United States and are hiring a department head for the country.
Nordetect is mainly owned by Palak Sehgal and Keenan Pinto, but also has minority shareholders such as the venture capital firm Sosv.