Picketa Systems is a precision agriculture start-up emerging from the Technology Management and Entrepreneurship Centre at the University of New Brunswick. This Fredericton-based company is creating a soil and plant nutrition scanner along with an online data visualization and analytics platform to help food producers monitor their crop nutrition, manage their resources, and optimize their return on investment.
In August 2020, Xavier Hébert-Couturier took the initiative to bring Picketa Systems’ founders together. He had always been entrepreneurial-minded and knew, heading into his final year of Software Engineering at UNB, that he wanted to pursue the Technology Management and Entrepreneurship Capstone project instead of the traditional Engineering Senior Design project. He first contacted Dominic Levesque, his friend from high school who was also entering his senior year of engineering at UNB. Dominic then brought in his friends from the Electrical Engineering program, Maxime Dumont and Zachary Andersen, to complete the team.
In their first meeting, the founding members brainstormed ideas to determine which problem they would solve. They left the meeting with more questions than answers and thus started their research. It was in their second meeting that Dominic proposed to develop a crop monitoring system for growers. After working on his family-owned potato farm, as a field researcher for a fertilizer company, and as a remote monitoring application developer for a start-up, it is crazy to think this idea had not come up earlier. All members found interest in the concept as it appealed to their past experiences in one way or another. Xavier realized his full-stack development and machine learning experience would play critical roles in the project. Having grown up on his family’s cattle farm and gained experience with instrumentation design in his summer work terms, Maxime saw his network and knowledge as vital assets for Picketa Systems. Spending three summers as a wildland firefighter, Zachary has seen the harmful effects of land mismanagement firsthand and is committed to helping growers practice sustainable agriculture through Picketa Systems’ solution.
Things started moving quickly after this second meeting. The team presented their idea to the Technology Management and Entrepreneurship instructors and was ultimately accepted to participate in the program. After performing market research, feasibility assessments, and talking with growers, agronomists, researchers, and many others, Picketa learned how strong its potential was. The quiet hopes and aspirations of taking the project further than the Engineering Design Symposium soon turned into actions directed towards long-term success. The team transitioned seamlessly from a group of students trying to graduate to being a legitimate start-up company. As the founders progressed in the project, the focus naturally shifted from completing their course milestones to building their business.
The need for funding became apparent as Picketa Systems picked up momentum. The founders decided to incorporate in November as they actively sought funding opportunities from research funding agencies, government programs, agricultural industry partnerships, start-up accelerators, and business competitions. Thus far, Picketa has won the RBC UNBeatable Idea and the APEX Business Plan competitions while receiving contributions from the RBC Technology Commercialization and National Research Council-Industrial Research Assistance Programs. The team has also established a partnership with CCNB-INNOV, where they are collecting data to build their prototype system. They have already received multiple letters of intent from New Brunswick growers and letters of support from NB Potatoes and industry experts.
The founders continuously consult their agricultural industry and Fredericton start-up connections to help build their solution and prepare for commercialization. Although the founders find it difficult to manage business operations, prototype development, and regular schoolwork, they want to do all they can to make the idea successful.
As graduation approaches in April 2021, Picketa Systems will have its prototype system ready for demonstration. After graduation, the founders plan to join the Summer Institute to improve their business case and keep developing their technology. They will expand their data collection efforts by working directly in the field with growers and ag consultants. In the not so far future, the team members consider pursuing Master’s degrees in Technology Management and Entrepreneurship to keep growing their services, customer base, and value add.
Picketa Systems has received tremendous support, advice, and mentoring from many great people already in its early stages. The founders would like to express their gratitude to Dr. Erika Naruzawa, Dr. Kush Bubbar, Ms. Linda Bulmer, Mr. Tom Sisk, Dr. Erik Scheme, Mr. Troy Lavigne, and their many other mentors for their continuing support.