Meet Laurence and Khalid, the team at YieldTec, one of the companies in our 2021 Cohort A.
Dr Kahlid Salah is the Founder and CEO of YieldTec. From Yemen originally, he came to New Zealand to complete his PhD studies in mechatronics at the University of Canterbury.
Laurence Gresham is the CTO and lead developer of the software. Before YieldTec, he graduated from Ara Institute in Canterbury, where he and Khalid met.
The team aims to reduce growers' chances of low harvest yields with a hardware and software solution which addresses labour shortages in the Horticultural market. Their motivations move past the technology, with YieldTec being focused on the bigger picture of helping farmers and pickers alike.
There couldn't be a better time for this solution to hit the market. The team finds motivation from the escalating problem of a labour shortage that must be solved if we are to see the industry maximise its harvest yield potential. With Covid-19 continuing to restrict worker accessibility, this problem is greater than ever. Kiwifruit growers alone are facing a 23,000 worker gap which needs filling, according to KPMG.
The big issue pushing the team forward has been seeing farmers and growers losing quality fruit due to poor labour performance. YieldTec strives to help growers better utilise workers, by adding not only automation, but also a system to get the best out of workers and robots.
YieldTec is building a cloud platform used by growers to manage their workforce, track and improve quality, connect pickers and growers, and increase overall picking efficiency.
The platform is made possible using smart fruit picking bags that automatically weigh the fruit and smart mobile bins that detect full bags. This removes the need for manual tracking and ensures that pickers can be more efficient as robotic bins drive to them. Helping growers automate their harvest management through tools and platforms, the team are paving the way for the future of horticulture.
"It seems like an idea that should already exist - why was no one doing it already? So, we jumped on it.” Laurence said.
Khalid takes another approach "My motivation is family. My daughter is always asking, when are you going to build your robot, Dad? I just want to see it!"
He wants his children to grow up watching him create something that helps change someone else's life. Believing that creating a product to help people is rewarding, and he wants his children to grow up seeing him work towards that idea.
However, the journey hasn't come without its challenges. Getting people onto the platform has become a "chicken-egg" type situation with uncertainty around who needs to join the platform first - pickers or growers. Additionally, reluctance to move toward less traditional methods such as automation has also presented a challenge.
To tackle this, the team has found they've needed to remove their engineering caps and put on their customer's shoes. Laurence stating, "We know it's possible we've seen it...we want to see it succeed."
There is opportunity globally for YieldTec as overplanting, labour shortages, infrastructure issues, and low market prices continue to threaten the multi-billion dollar horticulture industry worldwide.
We’re so excited to have Khalid and Laurence on board and look forward to watching their journey to come!