Salmon Arm flexes its tech muscles as TechBrew Robotics raises 17.5 million and rebrands

The company, which brings robotics to mushroom farming, will now be known as 4AG Robotics

There aren’t a ton of communities under 20,000 people developing technology to be used around the world. But that’s the case in Salmon Arm, where the company formerly known as TechBrew Robotics is accelerating the development and deployment of cutting-edge robotic solutions for mushroom harvesting.

Today, the company announced both a funding round of $17.5 million and a name change to 4AG (pronounced “Forage) Robotics. The financing round is led by BDC Capital’s Industrial Innovation Venture Fund and InBC Investment Corp., with participation from a series of investors from across Canada. This investment marks the first direct investment into a company from InBC, a public fund with $500 million to invest.

According to the company, the mushroom sector is in urgent need of automated solutions, given the complex logistical and labour challenges posed by a highly perishable product. 4AG Robotics has 37 employees and has already secured purchase orders with farms in Canada and Europe.

“We’ll continue growing the team, likely hitting 60 or 70 employees over the next year,” said 4AG Robotics CEO Sean O’Connor when asked what the funding will go toward. “We’ll also be using a portion of the capital to start buying larger orders of inventory in anticipation of large orders from mushroom farms around the world.”

O’Connor is adamant that the company can build a global operation out of Salmon Arm: “Our town has an exceptionally strong manufacturing sector, which means there’s a pool of great companies we can work with for various components of our robots. Moreover, there’s a healthy base of talent in the area that can help with building robots, but we’re a bit light when it comes to finding people in software and AI.”

To that end, O’Connor has linked up with leaders at Okanagan College (which has a Salmon Arm campus) who are exploring ways to create more mechatronics talent. “There’s also a distinct draw for people living in large centres like Vancouver that are excited by the prospect of living in a town where they can afford a proper house, have a short commute and have endless outdoor activities at their fingertips through all four seasons,” he said. “I believe this advantage will allow us to continue scaling our headquarters here in Salmon Arm.”

But he also admits that that opinion isn’t universally shared. Some of the investors that 4AG Robotics courted weren’t on board with the small-town vision. “We lost out on investments from other international venture capital funds—they didn’t believe we could build a globally successful company in Salmon Arm,” he said. “We’re incredibly grateful that we found investors who see not only the opportunity for 4AG Robotics, but the value that we can receive from Salmon Arm in the coming years.”

Eventually, O’Connor sees the company branching into other industries as well: “I believe that 4AG Robotics is going to become a global leader in harvesting crops in the indoor agriculture space, solving the growing labour issues in these industries that are critical for food security and bringing fresh food closer to large populations.”