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This ex-VC has a smarter spray for winemakers

Cordon has a vision for greener, more efficient pesticide deployment

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While most of the startups we cover are either about to stqrt raising a round or are raising one, sometimes we turn our attention to a startup that has just completed a round.

Today is one of those times, as we meet Cordon, which has recently completed an £840,000 pre-seed round for its agtech hardware.

But first:

  • I was at GP Bullhound’s Northern Tech Awards in the beautiful setting of Manchester Cathedral last Thursday

  • It was great to see three of the four ‘Northern Star’ awards go to companies we caught early, namely Versori, Housr, and Inicio AI. Congratulations to all three.

– Martin

This issue of PreSeed Now is brought to you by EHE Ventures.

Known for backing high-growth tech, EHE just announced they're building a £15m AI tech fund, and have finalised their core Fund Advisory team. The fund itself seeks to support and accelerate the growth of AI technologies, empowering the brightest minds in tech at pre-seed, seed and Series A.

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Cordon has a plan for greener, more efficient winemaking

Cordon co-founders Jamie Hutchinson and Annelise Brbora

In summary:

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If you quit the tech world for the rural bliss of running a vineyard, be careful. Tech might just drag you back.

That’s what happened to Jamie Hutchinson, a former VC, who moved into winemaking… until he spotted an opportunity.

“I was somewhat abhorred by the amount of pesticide that you need to use [in winemaking], if you apply it in the way that 99% of the world applies pesticides, which is using airblast spray,” Hutchinson says.

Used widely in a range of crop farming situations, airblast sprayers–as the name implies–force pesticide out of a container using air at high speeds. But they can be very inefficient, in more ways than one.

“It uses about 30 kilowatts of continuous power on average for an airblast sprayer, which means that you can't effectively power that using a battery system,” Hutchinson explains. 

“And it's pretty much impossible to control it. You're moving so much air at such high velocity, that even if you knew what you wanted to spray and what you didn't, you couldn't actually stop there in time in order to do that.”

While other companies have looked for ways to improve airblast spraying, Hutchinson’s startup Cordon is taking a completely different approach.

What they’ve come up with is a way of using much less airflow, and therefore much less power, while allowing for far better precision, meaning less pesticide is used too.

How it works

Putting it simply, Cordon has developed a new way turning pesticide into droplets, and then spraying them. Hutchinson says it represents a 97% power decrease compared to airblast spraying, while requiring 70% less pesticide.

“We have a patent pending on a combination of a rotary atomizer which makes the droplets in very low power away, with a very complex series of air flows in order to shape those droplets and project them onto the target. whilst at the same time protecting them against drift.”

This hardware is combined with software using machine vision and A.I. to look at the plants in front of the sprayer and determine when to turn the sprayer on and off, based on where the pesticide is required.

A render of Cordon’s nozzle

Initially, Cordon plans to offer a standalone sprayer as a direct replacement for current airblast sprayers, and sell it through the same sales channels farmers already use.

In the future, Hutchinson sees an opportunity to work with the various agricultural robot platforms being developed by companies around the world. 

We’ve previously profiled Muddy Machines and AutoPickr, which are smaller-sized robots in this market. But Cordon would likely require something bigger, given that its system will require around half a tonne of weight to be carried. 

“There are lots of those kinds of tractors or robot platforms in development. And we think it will be interesting, when people come to look at actual applications for those platforms, to be able to give them something which is low-weight enough and low-power enough in order to be convincing for the end customer.”

The story so far

Hutchinson was a VC for 10 years starting from the late 1990s. That included a stint at the firm which has since evolved into Molten Ventures, but was then known as Cazenove Private Equity.

When the fund he was managing was bought by JP Morgan, he shifted away from tech and into the wine world. Initially he co-founded a wine retailer called The Sampler, which is still running today.

He then moved to France and bought a vineyard which he ran using regenerative agriculture principles.

“I sold that business, but it informed my view as to the strange dichotomy that is in wine,” he says.

“On one hand, it's a product that really is fundamentally connected to the quality of the farming. People really do care about what they do to the earth. And yet on the other hand, they're happily spraying tonnes and tonnes of copper, which is a heavy metal, in order to protect against diseases which you can't get rid of.”

It’s those two observations that leads Hutchinson to believe that there will be strong demand for what Cordon has developed.

He has co-founded the startup with Annelise Brbora, whose background is product development focused, and has included time as a product manager with Babylon Health and as co-founder of a startup called Medicus Health.

As with Juno AI, which we recently covered, the pair met through Zinc’s mission-driven venture builder programme.

Hutchinson says he and Brbora have been working on the product for the past couple of years, and on a formal basis since last summer.

By the end of last year, they’d built a full-sized prototype that can demonstrate the spraying technology integrated with the machine vision.

The next step is to build a second version that is ready for deployment. This involves lab work to refine the spray, and testing at vineyards to optimise the output. 

The aim is to have a sprayer ready for sale next year.


Cordon has recently raised an £840,000 pre-seed round co-led by Britbots–which backs UK-based automation, A.I. and robotics startups–and Vienna-based Fund F, which invests in startups with gender-diverse founder teams.

Others involved in the round include The Evenlode Foundation and SFC Capital, alongside a number of angels, and follow-on investment from Zinc.

Hutchinson says part of the thinking behind having so many participants in the round was to build a “community” around the startup.

“Nobody knows what this market is going to be like for the next few years, and what really is important is to make sure that we have good enough connections and good enough advice in order to avoid as many mistakes as we possibly can… to make sure that we have sensible people around the table.”

The startup is currently on the lookout to hire engineers with experience with fluid dynamics, aerodynamics, or power management and electrical engineering.

And there’s more!

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