08 Jun 2021
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New Zealand AI startup secures $1.8 million investment for environment focused business

By Ryan Morris-Reade

New Zealand company, Nelson Artificial Intelligence (NAI), has announced a new spin off of its first business after securing a $1.8 million investment.

NAI is a provider of artificial intelligence solutions focused on environmental challenges, and says the new investment in technology will give landowners streamlined access to forest carbon credit markets. 

The spin-off, CarbonCrop, has been backed by Tauranga-based WNT Ventures, and the company is planning to compete globally in the large and growing market for carbon sequestration management tools.

NAI was itself backed by a loan administered by the Provincial Development Unit (PDU) in August 2019.

“CarbonCrop is the first of several spin-offs we’ll be taking on,” says NAI chairman, Mark Houghton Brown. 

“The PDU support has assisted our ability to develop AI-based solutions to deal with the world’s most pressing climate change and environmental issues and is helping to propel New Zealand onto the world stage as a leader in this field.”

NAI is one of the first companies in New Zealand to use the new venture studio business model, which creates start-ups by putting in place a team, growth strategy, and initial funding sufficient to take the new business to market.

This approach differs from the venture capital model in that venture studios oversee the day-to-day operations and strategic decisions of growing the new business. Once it’s market-ready, capital can be raised from outside investors, including VCs. Employees will generally stay in the spin-off or return to the studio to work on a new start-up.

“We are taking the success of the CarbonCrop spin-off, and the advances we’re making on the others we’re planning, as validation that the model works locally,” says Brown.

CarbonCrop helps land-owners understand the scale of their carbon forestry opportunity without any up-front cost or commitment. Machine learning and remote sensing technology enable the product to identify, monitor, and make the best use of forest carbon stocks and restoration options.

Another project NAI has in development is a marine mammal monitoring system, using AI to detect, classify, and track the calls of different marine mammals, and an automated taxonomy product that allows laboratories to better monitor water quality for specific microscopic organisms and pollutants. 

It says it is also supporting the Predator Free 2050 drive by using deep learning and computer vision to identify and remove ‘false trigger’ images recorded by the Department of Conservation across large areas of bush in pest-control areas.

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