The SmartMachine team from left, Nick Gledhill, Walter Langlois and Andrew Kersley.

Global investor Fabal Group has invested into Marlborough-based startup SmartMachine, citing its work as one of the most significant operational step changes for viticulture since the advent of the tractor 130 years ago.

SmartMachine’s first funding round has raised $1.93 million, with new Investors Fabal Group, Aspire NZ Seed Fund (operated by NZ Growth Capital Partners), Angel Investors Marlborough and Angel HQ now joining founding partner, Pernod Ricard Winemakers.

Company spokesman Andrew Kersley says that at a time where the investment market has been challenging, this successful close really highlights the uniqueness of the product offering and value proposition that the company’s products and service offer to global horticultural industries.

Fabal Vineyards chief executive Ashley Keegan says: “After looking hard at the global landscape, this technology and the team behind it has the potential to be one of the most significant operational step changes for the industry since the advent of the tractor over 130 years ago.”

SmartMachine’s flagship product Oxin is the world’s first fully autonomous, multi-tasking viticultural robotic tractors. These cutting-edge machines promise to revolutionise the viticulture landscapes by enabling greater operational efficiencies and addressing the challenges posed by the ongoing labour shortages the industry faces.

Foundation partner Pernod Ricard Winemakers has backed the product and business from the beginning. Viticulture transformation manager David Allen says the company is proud of its continued investment in SmartMachine’s technology and seeing first-hand how it can revolutionise the viticulture landscape.

Angel Investors Marlborough led the round with good follow-on support from Angel HQ.

Andrew Kersley says both groups have members with great experience and connections in the markets SmartMachine is targeting.

“It’s really uplifting to have these New Zealand groups backing a New Zealand business.”

New Zealand Growth Capital Partners rounded out the raise. “With increasing operational challenges in the viticulture industry, there are clear market drivers for alternative approaches and solutions that improve productivity. Through our Aspire seed fund, we are excited to be backing the ingenuity of the SmartMachine team and their journey of future expansion,” says Jacques Richter, associate investment director, NZGCP

Kersley says it is “a really exciting time on all fronts of the business”.

“We are focusing on building out our revenue model in New Zealand, establishing our market position in Australia, while strategically working through our launch in the United States.

“We have industry and government backing through MPI and their Sustainable Farming Futures Fund to build a fully electric version of our machine, which will shift the dial even further regarding the sustainable benefits of this technology.

“Our incredible multi-disciplinary team continues to strengthen and grow, and the progress they continue to make on the business, products and the value proposition they provide to growers is inspiring.”