AI venture studio spins off its first brain-child

Venture studio Nelson Artificial Intelligence (NAI), a provider of artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for thorny environmental challenges, has spun off its first business after securing a $1.8 million investment in technology that gives landowners streamlined access to forest carbon credit markets.

Tauranga-based WNT Ventures has backed the spin-off, CarbonCrop, to compete globally in the large and growing market for carbon sequestration management tools.

NAI was itself backed by a loan administered by the Provincial Development Unit (PDU) in August 2019.

“CarbonCrop is the first of several spin-offs we’ll be talking about,” said NAI Chairman Mark Houghton Brown.

“The PDU support has assisted our ability to develop AI-based solutions to deal with the world’s most pressing climate change and environmental issues and is helping to propel New Zealand onto the world stage as a leader in this field.”

NAI is pioneering in New Zealand the new venture studio business model. This creates start-ups by putting in place a team, growth strategy and initial funding sufficient to take the new business to market.

This is distinct from the venture capital approach in that venture studios oversee the day-to-day operations and strategic decisions of growing the new business. Once it is market-ready it can raise capital from outside investors, including VCs. Employees typically stay in the spin-off or return to the studio to work on a new start-up.

The concept is most closely aligned to a business accelerator. But instead of spreading small amounts of capital across many prospects with the expectation that most will fail, venture studios will focus resources on business opportunities they assess as viable.

“We are taking the success of the CarbonCrop spin-off, and the advances we’re making on the others we’re planning, as validation that the model works locally,” said Mr Houghton Brown.

CarbonCrop helps land-owners understand the scale of their carbon forestry opportunity without any up-front cost or commitment. Machine learning and remote sensing technology enable the product to identify, monitor and make best use of forest carbon stocks and restoration options.

NAI is also developing a marine mammal monitoring system that uses AI to detect, classify and track the calls of different marine mammals, and an automated taxonomy product that allows laboratories to more efficiently monitor water quality for specific microscopic organisms and pollutants.

It is supporting the Predator Free 2050 drive by using deep learning and state-of-the-art computer vision to identify and remove ‘false trigger’ images recorded by the Department of Conservation across large swathes of bush in pest-control areas.

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About Nelson Artificial Intelligence (NAI)

NAI is a venture studio that creates artificial intelligence solutions for global environmental problems. Its vision is global and it works with people and partners the world over. It builds AI applications with the potential for global environmental impact into viable ventures.

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