Interview with Saillog Founder and CEO Dr. Nessi Benishti

Dr. Nessi Benishti holds M.Sc and Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from Cambridge and Oxford Universities. Before founding Saillog, Nessi co-founded and served as a CTO at Augmedics and was the core technology inventor at Cathworks. Nessi led algorithms development for medical imaging companies and achieved the proof of concept for many medical device startups. Along his career, Nessi won numerous awards (including the Wolf Prize for Excellency in Science) and published several publications in exclusive international journals.

1. What is Saillog?

Saillog digitizes crop protection by leveraging and deploying proprietary artificial intelligence and computer vision algorithms. Saillog’s system aggregates data through the use of remote sensing devices, and its smartphone app called Agrio. 

Agrio users are notified when a problem is predicted or sensed in their fields. Users are presented with optimized scouting routes for them to upload images of plants with suspected pathologies. They then receive diagnosis and treatment recommendations from our artificial intelligence system. 

Saillog offers a plant protection management solution to large scale food producers such as farming cooperatives. In this context, Agrio is a decision support system and tool that facilitates collaboration inside the organization.

2. How did you come up with the idea for Saillog?

I was sitting with my friend in his garden, and he was telling me about a problem he had with his avocado tree. I could not help him, but my interest in computer vision made me curious, and I wanted to know if there are visual patterns in plant pathology. After some research, I learned that this is how experts do their job; they go out to the fields and visually inspect the plants to provide diagnoses and treatment recommendations. I realized that there are not enough experts who can support farmers, and more than 40% of yields are lost due to plant diseases, pests, and nutritional deficiencies. The problem becomes more severe in low-income nations, where expertise is even more scarce. 

The rising usage of mobile phones and the advancement in artificial intelligence and remote sensing technology made me confident that it is a good time to offer a scalable solution to the problem.

Nessi Benishti, Founder and CEO

3. How did you get to where you are today with your company?

Saillog is a bootstrapped startup that grew organically since it was founded. We started as a purely B2C company and added our B2B solution along the way. The first version of Agrio was released to the application stores targeting individual field inspectors and growers at the end of 2017. 

From then on we are iterating and improving based on customer feedback and our increasing understanding of the need. 

In July 2018, our artificial intelligence system was the first to identify—and alert on—the invasion of a very crucial pest to Asia, the fall armyworm, after a farmer on the continent uploaded an image to the system. After that, we decided to put more emphasis on prediction and remote sensing monitoring. 

4. How did coronavirus impact your company and what lessons would you take from it?

Digitization was boosted since the interaction of farmers with agronomists and field inspectors became even more limited and challenging. We see a substantial acceleration in growth and interest.

More broadly, the awareness of the importance of disease and pest spread monitoring raised and made our selling pitch shorter.

5. What is the future of Saillog?

Our goal is to keep growing our user base and strengthening our offering to small to medium holder farmers and organizations. We aim to make valuable technology accessible to underserved communities.

6. What is the startup scene in Israel and how has that helped your company?

The ecosystem is very developed here and offers mentorships and advice to entrepreneurs when needed. As a developer, I interacted with many entrepreneurs and technologists along my career.

There are many programs that offer help with acceleration. We took part in the Google for Startup Residency program in Tel Aviv that offered us support and guidance in building the business.

7. What advice would you give to young budding entrepreneurs?

I get the impression that many young entrepreneurs are stuck in the idea stage. My recommendation would be to jump into the deep water and learn as you go. The big problems will show up no matter where you start.

We would like to thank Nessi for speaking with us.

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