(Image Credit: Crover Ltd)
The Higgs Centre for Innovation – a Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) business incubation hub – welcomes cutting-edge agri-tech start-up Crover Ltd, to the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre UK (ESA BIC UK). We catch up with Founder and CEO Lorenzo Conti to find out more about the company and why he chose the ESA BIC UK at the Higgs…
Great to meet you Lorenzo. We’re very excited to hear about Crover. What can you tell us about your company and the amazing tech you’re building?
“Crover has been designed for grain store-keepers – because it maps the conditions inside grain stores to identify grain spoilage. When grains such as wheat and barley are stored in sheds and silos for long periods of time they are at risk of spoilage from infestations – by insects and by moulds. Crover’s tech can alert grain store-keepers early of spoilage so they can take action to reduce their grain store losses.”
That’s fascinating. How does Crover do this?
“We have developed a robot that essentially swims through the grains. Crover really is the first and only solution able to move through a granular medium – which is essentially solid particles like sand and grains.”
How did you come up with the idea?
“I studied granular physics at the University of Edinburgh (UoE), and did my PhD specifically looking at non-local effects in granular media – systems like sand, grains and powders. It was during my PhD that I stumbled across a method for moving through assemblies of solid particles.”
What has been your journey turning your theoretical work into real commercial capability?
“It started with a chance conversation when someone suggested that I protect the invention – with a patent. I then met some advisors from Edinburgh Innovations – which is the UoE’s commercialisation service. With their help and advice, and that of the Scottish Institute for Enterprise too, I applied for a patent. I was recently granted a UK patent on the method for locomotion in granular media.
“I also started entering business idea competitions – winning major competitions including Wild Card EDGE award, Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future award, Converge Challenge Kickstart, Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards and the global Climate Launchpad.
“Winning these competitions was a fabulous endorsement from the start-up business community of the work I was doing, and it gave me a lot of confidence and reassurance that this was an idea with real commercial application.
“The next step on my journey was to build a team. Through networking and word-of-mouth, I’ve met some great people to help me take the business forward. Within a year I’ve gone from a team of 1, to a Crover team of 5.”
Who is Team Crover?
“There’s me of course. I look after the overall management of the company, and oversee the development of the tech. Specifically, my focus right now is looking for and following-up on funding opportunities.
“Artem Lukianov is our Mechanical Magician. He looks after the mechanical side of the tech development. He’s the one who is mainly building the Crover robot.
“Fengzhou Wang is an Electrical and Electronics Engineer. He makes sure the location tracking system and the sensors do their job.
“Sean Katagiri is our robotics programming guy. He takes care of the robotics control system and the web-based app.”
“Gianlorenzo De Santis – we call him Santo – which incidentally means Saint in Italian! is our Industry Liaison and Operations Executive. He is an expert in food chain management, and he looks after the commercial side of the business. He engages with clients and potential clients; and works to understand and gain insights about the market opportunities through market research.”
What attracted you to the Higgs Centre for Innovation?
“I first became aware of the Higgs when I came to an event here – in summer 2019. The event was run by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), and was their first event in Scotland.
“I met STFC’s Business and Innovation team from the Higgs at the event. We got chatting about our tech, and because we were looking at using satellite data connectivity – the team felt we would be a good fit for space tech business incubation at the centre. We applied for the ESA BIC UK programme at the Higgs – which is a European Space Agency-supported business incubation programme… and we were successful! Through the programme we have access to technical support from both STFC and ESA, plus office space and £41,500 incentive funding which we will use to implement satellite data transfer onto our system.”
What are the benefits to your company, being at the Higgs?
“We have access to modern state-of-the art labs, on-site, to build and test our tech – which is great.
“The site location too gives us access to thought-leading experts in their field. Based at Royal Observatory Edinburgh, the site is also home to STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC). Astronomers and engineers here design and build cutting-edge instruments for the world’s most advance telescopes on land and in space. The engineering innovations for astronomy research have lots of cross-pollination opportunities and applications in other fields. For example, we have been talking with the additive manufacturing (AM) technology development lead at UK ATC about AM (or 3D printing) prototyping – who has suggested techniques we didn’t know about. And not only that, we’ve benefitted from the best soldering expert we’ve ever met who has soldered for us a part we were finding unsolderable!
“Being part of STFC’s community is also really useful for us as we have access to business development support and advice, as well as a network of innovative companies and facilities across the UK. We are kept aware of opportunities available to us as an agri-tech start-up – which can include programmes for both funded and in-kind support. Additionally, the ESA BIC UK at the Higgs gives us access to PhD students who can be seconded to work with us as part of their PhD at the University of Edinburgh – to have this extra resource without a financial cost to us is tremendous.”
What do you hope to achieve in your time at the Higgs?
“We will be on the ESA BIC UK programme at the Higgs for one year. So, what we would like to achieve in the next year, is to implement Satellite Data Transfer into the Crover system so that the system is deployable anywhere – even in rural areas where grain stores are often located. Essentially that means that we’d like to get data from the Crover robot – to the satellite – to the servers – so that the Crover grain storage monitoring solution is deployable anywhere.”