South West law firm Ashfords is advising a company bidding to raise £1m to develop autonomous farming robots.
The Small Robot Company, which is based in Shropshire, was co-founded by Sam Watson-Jones, a fourth-generation arable farmer. The business has been developing a system which allows farmers to take a cereal crop from planting through to harvest without the need to take a manned tractor or sprayer onto the field.
The robots will take care of all the feeding, seeding, and weeding of crops autonomously.
The Small Robot Company is in the process of recruiting 20 farmers to trial the service and be the first customers. The initial group will pay a £5,000 deposit and will then be part of designing the service.
Giles Hawkins, a corporate partner in Ashfords’ technology team, which is advising the business, said: “The legal issues facing agritech businesses are still in the legal infancy in many respects.
“Whilst the advice on scaling up the company and developing contracts is reasonably straightforward, anticipating potential legal challenges is much trickier, especially once the robots are in the field and undertaking real work.
“The agritech industry covers a number of technologies and issues from developing alternative proteins to drone and robotics to bioengineering, which is why agritech is such a fascinating area in which to be working. Much of what we are doing at Ashfords is breaking new ground.”
The company will not sell the robots but will instead lease them to farmers through a model called “Farming-as-a-Service.
The business is looking to raise £1m with a late seed round which will close in September 2018. To date, it has been funded by the family business and this will be the company’s first external investment.
Watson-Jones said: “This is a key point for us as we approach field testing, so Ashford’s advice has been invaluable.
“There has also been a significant networking value attached to being involved with the firm – they have introduced us to a number of actual and potential investors.
“It is a huge source of comfort and confidence to us that we are being walked through this fundraising process by a firm that has done it many times before with different businesses in different sectors.”