Lessons from 3 Hot Cleantech Companies

February 5, 2015

Semios combines wireless technology, machine-to-machine communication, and pheromones for superior agricultural pest control. Founder and CEO Michael Gilbert – a chemist with experience in pharmaceuticals – set out to find a more efficient way for growers to use pheromones. While pheromone-based solutions have the benefit of being non-toxic (they control pests by disrupting their mating processes), they can also be expensive. Through partnerships with investors who understand wireless technology, Gilbert devised a system that enables growers to monitor for (and react to) pests electronically. This technology allows for the more precise application of costly pheromones.

In addition to pests, Semios helps growers monitor and manage blights such as frost, disease, and less-than-optimal soil conditions.

Why it’s hot: Semios makes our list because it lives up to an adjective that seems to be used all too freely these days – innovative. Descriptions of its orchard-management system – which involves tiny cameras, remotely-dispersing canisters of pheromones, and an array of electronic data-collection apparatus – sound like the stuff of science fiction. Novelty aside, the company has the potential to solve massive agricultural challenges in a safe, green way. And, as Michael Gilbert has pointed out, with pesticide regulation increasing, the time is right for alternative solutions.  Investors seem to agree.

A 2013 Ottawa Citizen article describes the international enthusiasm for Semios. James Maynard (chief executive of Wavefront, an organization that helped Semios gain exposure by arranging tours and helping with marketing) succinctly described the reception Gilbert received in South America. “Word had gotten out ahead of Semios,” says Maynard. “There were people waiting to meet them.” The positive buzz continued in 2014, when the company won a lucrative award from Verizon and attained a spot on the Ready to Rocket list (a good predictor of success in the B.C. tech world).

The Lesson: The success of Semios demonstrates the potential benefits of committing to a wildly-inventive idea. While many would have abandoned a plan that combines elements from seemingly incongruent fields – wireless technology, machine-to-machine communication, and green agriculture – Gilbert made it work. He found the right investors. He benefited from the talents of niche marketing experts – those at Wavefront, leaders in wireless research and commercialization – and the support of the VentureLabs Accelerator program.

For those working in fields perceived as risky (such as cleantech), a big idea is far more likely to succeed with support from those who have overlapping areas of interest and complementary expertise. Finding this support may mean extensive exploration of the resources at your disposal.