Tue, 17 Jul 2018
The AgTech Series: An Interview with Maryna Kuzmenko from Petiole
Today, we are speaking to Maryna Kuzmeko – the CEO of Petiole. We discuss the work they are currently doing at the UK based start-up and her experience as an industry leader in a male-dominated sector.
Petiole is a mobile solution in precision agriculture, helping agronomists, crop-protection, and seed companies get more valuable plants, yields, and insights using leaf area and chlorophyll measurements directly in the field.
Could you tell us a bit about your background before Petiole?
Officially, I am a well-educated lawyer with LL.M in International Commercial Law from London Metropolitan University, Ph.D in Business Law from one of the leading Ukrainian law universities and I’ve obtained over 5 years of work experience in legal services in Ukraine. However, that was so long ago, like in another life!
Can you expand on the projects you are currently doing?
Sure, with our new project, we help producers of wheat, soybean and corn to reduce up to 30% of fertilizers cost due to selective application of fertilizers in the amount individually required by the plants.
Our smart technology helps to precisely spray fertilizers with exactly what’s needed. Using Computer Vision and Deep Learning algorithms, our technology can measure leaf area index (LAI) in real time mode, detect, identify, and make management decisions about spraying every single plant in the field. It can be either installed or integrated with your spraying machines to optimize spraying exactly in the field. Our smart technology can be also integrated with drones or agronomists. It can also be used as stand-alone equipment at the experimental fields.
One of our side projects is not related with agriculture but is very promising too. It is called “Foundation” (or in Ukrainian and Russian “Фундамент”). This is a wellbeing platform that improves the experience of creating personalised mobile applications based on individual trainings or mental wellness sessions from pre-selected psychologists, life coaches and business trainers. Ultimately, a person will get an individual coach session how to cope with some life challenges within a mobile app. We are currently working with beta-testers, who are simultaneously participating in the on-site wellbeing program created by one of the top-ranked Ukrainian psychologists.
What have been the main challenges in starting your business?
I think that the main challenges were related both with the technical and business sides of our projects. Regarding technical issues – at the beginning of the Petiole project we did not have any expertise in Computer Vision at all. However, due to the talents and hard work of Andrii Seleznov, our Chief Technical Officer and founder of Petiole, we made our mobile app from scratch based on Open CV library and Android mobile development.
In terms of business, there was an issue in trying different monetization models. A greater part of our customers live in developing countries (our top countries in downloads are India, Brazil, Colombia and Indonesia). They are involved in different types of plant science and agriculture research. Hence, we had to understand that even a couple of dollars for any type of mobile service is quite a large amount of money for them. That is why as of now – we have decided to use a model that applies for similar projects and mainly consider grants and participation in different collaborative schemes as our way to do everyday business.
Technology and agriculture are both considered to be male-dominated industries – how has your experience been and has that affected you in any way?
I agree that there are not too many women in agritech. In most conferences where I speak, I meet 2 – 3 female speakers and twice more men. At the same time, since agritech is a part of STEM, we must understand that the overall picture cannot be different. We must provide instruments for women to immerse into agriculture technologies and our Petiole is doing this.
Young women represent a huge potential for STEM. Therefore, it is very important to give them the opportunity to prove themselves in school or undergraduate years in research requiring special equipment. Petiole is an affordable mobile platform that allows young women to carry out their research in biology, ecology and agronomy without using expensive equipment.
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs?
Try not to miss the opportunities. Believe in yourself and in your project.
Do not worry about being rejected by someone or not getting approval of your ideas today. Perhaps, tomorrow you will meet other people who will accept your offer and will be interested in what you are doing. So keep going and do what you need to do with the best efforts you have.
What are your passions within Precision Agriculture & AgTech?
Our team works to bring Computer Vision technologies into data-enabled agriculture – to analyse images, implement feature extraction, and recognize objects using deep learning models.
Computer Vision is powering world-changing new technologies and our team has unique expertise in Computer Vision for agriculture. Following the main trends, launched by Google, Facebook and other tech giants that invest billions of pounds into everything from facial recognition to scene-understanding to object tracking, I believe that these technologies can be very helpful in agriculture.
What has been a career highlight so far?
The most inspiring thing in my current business is to see the positive results of my everyday work. When we made a video on how to measure leaf area with Petiole mobile application and I saw that it had many views, or when we launched a SEO company to promote our product in African and Middle East countries that followed with growth of downloads and increasing number of customers there – it always bring new forces not to give up and continue. Also, we have reached quite interesting milestones: in 2015 our Petiole was the finalist of GIST Tech-I Competition and also was ranked among the 20 hottest startup ideas by American Business Channel, CNBC. Also, we have already had almost 5000 downloads from 90 countries and agriculture scientists and agronomists who our key users live on every continent, except the Antarctic!
Such small but pleasant achievements remind us to move further and check new possibilities for our Petiole.
What is an average day in your life like?
My tasks are focused on the promotion of our mobile application and doing routine jobs that every start-up company has. I am responsible for business development, customer relationship, PR, legal and financial tasks and any other non-technological activity that appears on our horizon. Petiole is not the only significant project of my life at the moment, so I have other personal commitments. That is why, every day I do my best to find a work-life balance. I try to use technologies to help me with the effectiveness of my work. Hence, outsourcing of some routine tasks is a convenient way to succeed with other, more important and creative things.