Pest detection startup RapidAIM raises $1.25 million less than one month after launching


RapidAIM team Laura Jones, Nancy Schellhorn, and Darren Moore. Source: Supplied.

A less-than-a-month-old startup founded by three scientists has received a $1.25 million investment from Main Sequence Ventures to crack down on one of the world’s most prevalent food pests: fruit flies.

Founded by CSIRO researchers Dr Nancy Schellhorn, Darren Moore and Laura Jones, RapidAIM was initially born inside CSIRO as a research project, before being spun into a tech startup through the organisation’s ON accelerator.

The startup offers fruit fly detection and monitoring through a network of smart sensors which send real-time data to farmers and growers, providing them with updates on the prevalence of the pest on their crops.

Speaking to StartupSmart, Schellhorn describes RapidAIM’s technology as providing a “behavioural fingerprint” of the pest, which is leaps and bounds ahead of the current manual trap-checking method used to monitor fruit fly infestations.

A scientist by training, Schellhorn says she was aware of the over $300 million fruit fly infestation problem in Australia and had been working within CSIRO to develop ways to combat the pest.

“I’ve been working with cotton, vegetable and grain growers for the past 25 years, and it’s always been a challenge for them to detect and control insects,” she says.

“We decided to really focus on fixing this problem, and we’re excited to have as much impact as we can.”

RapidAIM has only officially been a company for less than a month, forming on September 21 after negotiating with CSIRO to gain the license for the technology.

Schellhorn and her co-founders are light-on when it comes to business experience, and the co-founder and chief executive says the experience of establishing and running the company has been both exciting and daunting.

“Going through the accelerator really helped us develop our networks and surround ourselves with excellent people,” she says.

“It also taught us how to engage with customers and how to best commercialise the product.”

Surprisingly, Schellhorn says there’s a number of skills she’s gained as a scientist which have applied well to her freshly-minted role as chief executive, and the transition wasn’t as jarring as she first anticipated.

“There’s a good translation from science skills to business, such as hypothesis testing, which we did as scientists and we do now when thinking about products. Also, setting objectives and delivering on them are science skills which apply to the business space,” she says.

“But other things like getting investor-ready and running through all the right steps with ASIC was a bit different, so we had to make sure we asked a lot of questions.”

$1.25 million to fund growth

The startup now has a $1.25 million investment from Main Sequence Ventures to help further develop and commercialise the product, with CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall saying in a statement the opportunity for RapidAIM’s technology was immense.

“Taking technology developed inside of CSIRO, turned into a new Aussie startup through our innovation program and the CSIRO Innovation Fund, is a great example of accelerating science solutions to deliver real-world solutions,” Marshall said.

“As an accomplished scientist, entrepreneur, and now chief executive, Nancy Schellhorn is an inspiration to our next generation of women STEM leaders.”

Schellhorn echoes Marshall’s excitement, praising Main Sequence Ventures for having a “serious appreciation” for deep tech and significant experience across both the VC’s partners and its portfolio.

“We’ve had access to the expertise of the other teams in their portfolio, and it’s been great to learn from people who have been there and done it,” she says.

The funding will help RapidAIM further commercialise the product, along with rolling out sensors for other pests including moths and beetles. The company will also look to use the funding for further expansion into markets such as the US.

“We’re thinking we’ll scale the company quite quickly, and our real focus for the next 12 months is to increase the value of the current company and turn it into a global business,” she says.

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