Robotic Harvester snapped up in Croc Pitch challenge


Daniel Niceforo & Amanda White at Niceforo Farms – Katherine NT

A robotic mango harvesting solution that will revolutionise the industry and boost the northern economy was selected as the Croc Pitch 2023 winner receiving a million dollar investment from the Paspalis Innovation Investment Fund (PIIF).

Agricultural Robotics inspired the judges to be part of reshaping an industry and easing the labour challenge. The two Croc Pitch runner ups were also from the agriculture sector their prizes supported by the Northern Territory Government’s Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade.

Now in its 5th year, Croc Pitch is Northern Australia’s premier pitching competition for start-ups run by Darwin Innovation Hub. Our crocs are always hungry for pitches that benefit Australia’s North and at the Developing Northern Australia Conference, eight finalists from around the world pitched for their chance to win up to $1 million in venture capital.

Paspalis chief executive officer Harley Paroulakis headed a panel of experts which included Stephen Land (NAIF), Stuart Palmer (Local Job Fund) and Karmen Karamanian (Red.k strategy & design).

“Seeing Amanda bring this harvesting robotic hand to large mango farms in the NT is absolutely fantastic,” Mr Paroulakis said. “We think this patented technology has a huge future for local manufacturing and global exports.”

The ground-breaking, proprietary auto-harvester solution leverages advanced robotics and vision systems to streamline the mango harvesting process. It has multiple arms picking fruit at five seconds per arm, with a 76% success rate. The solution is versatile with potential application to other soft tree fruit industries. It was developed in conjunction with the mango industry and Territory-based mango growers Niceforo Farms and had already received financial support from the Federal Governments Accelerating Commercialisation Program.

The mango auto harvester is more reliable and safer than manual labour. We are looking to upskill farm and factory sooner, with thanks to the generosity and vision of Paspalis, to develop the emerging ag-tech supply chain.

Doctor Amanda White – Founding Director Agricultural Robotics

This product emerges out of a four year R&D phase through Central Queensland University, supported by Hort Innovation and the R&D4Profit scheme. Great to see.

Professor Kerry Walsh AM – Technology Lead

A lot of farmers are struggling in this climate. They don’t have the resources to invest in tech commercialisation. This is a great opportunity for the growth of farming in the North, for all of Australia.

Daniel Niceforo –Director Niceforo Farms & Agricultural Robotics

Runner ups were Northern Territory company, AusNorth Trading who are looking at farming mud crabs for export, and Eden Towers, a vertical farming innovation. They each won a $33,000 Business Innovation Program grant from the Northern Territory Government to be used with entry into DIH’s StartNT Program.

“Croc Pitch is a centre piece of the Territory Innovation ecosystem. NTG is pleased to support the runner-ups through the Business Innovation Program.” – Martin Redhead, Director Business Innovation for the Department of Industry, Tourism and trade.

There were eight finalists from more than 30 applicants. One of the finalists – Blueflite – travelled from the United States to be part of the competition on the day. The finalists were:

  • Eden Towers – a sustainable future food company that utilises vertical farming technology to grow high quality fresh produce and non-food crops.
  • AusNorth Trading – focused on establishing micro businesses in North Australia and Southeast Asia, specialising in growing and fattening mud crabs for export.
  • Civic Ledger – an early-stage digital infrastructure company building next-generation markets for regulated real world assets including water.
  • Playground 123 – a product in the market dedicated to the inspection, management and maintenance of playgrounds in Australia.
  • EcoSystem Farms – developed a soilless, sustainable farming system that integrates agriculture and aquaculture at scale.
  • Blueflite – a US company designing and manufacturing an advanced, dual-use cargo drone platform to solve modern-day challenges in logistics.
  • GeoNadir – a cloud-based drone mapping solution allowing users to cost-effectively manage, process, analyse, and share their drone mapping data, leveraging Earth observation and remote sensing technologies.

Previous Croc Pitch winners with investment to date by the Paspalis Innovation Investment Fund includes Atomionics with $1,080,000, Amphibian Aerospace Industries with $1,500,000 and Corrosion Instruments with $950,000.

Taking part in Croc Pitch is an opportunity to showcase your innovation, product or technology in front of an expert panel and a live audience. The event attracts entrepreneurs, start-ups, SMES and investors. Darwin Innovation Hub hosts the competition annually, and Paspalis Innovation Investment Fund is the primary investment sponsor.

The Darwin Innovation Hub continue to seek companies that will benefit Australia’s North. If you think you could be the next Croc Pitch winner, follow the Darwin Innovation Hub for more information to be ready for the annual Croc Pitch.

(All investments are subject to due diligence)