For Virginia entrepreneur Raymond Magee, the idea for his startup came on a 2016 hike with his kids in Fairfax County’s Huntley Meadows Park.
“My kids were asking me a ton of questions about everything — the plants, the bugs, leaves, everything,” Magee told Technical.ly. “And I thought, I am running out of innate knowledge to answer their questions, but it would be cool if I had something that could help them.”
Magee, who was working on an MBA at the time, set his mind towards creating an app to identify plants in the region. It led him to sprout BloomCatch, an AI-powered app for plant identification. Users can snap a picture while on a hike, at the garden store or just out and about. The app, accessing data on 600-700 plants in its system, will then display what kind of plant they’re looking at.
The company is far from the only one with this kind of technology. But Magee said that Bloomcatch is unique in its ability to offer a human approach. If AI can’t help, Centreville-based BloomCatch has two plant specialists who will log on and assist. It also connects plant parents to local plant stores and centers to ask questions about pricing and treatment for any problems.
“The way we craft a response, it’s also very personable, which is what I wanted to build into the product itself,” Magee said. “I didn’t want it to just be, oh, here’s an answer to you question. [I wanted it to be], here’s an answer to what you were doing. Here’s some other cool facts that would be helpful for you, and we always conclude with ‘Make sure you have a great day.'”
BloomCatch, which is available for iOS and Android users, just received $50,000 in funding from the Center for Innovative Technology’s (CIT) GAP Fund, which makes seed-stage investments in local startups. The funds are part of a $500,000 seed round Magee is holding until the end of October. Investors can contribute via WeFunder, and those who raise the first $100,000 will receive the same terms as CIT.
With the round, he said he’ll be moving the app out of its pre-revenue stage, expanding marketing and hiring his six employees full-time. Presently, the app has about 500 users across seven states in the US.
“I love working on this app because I always see how it helps people, even in its baby phase right now,” Magee said. “People aren’t aware of what we’re truly trying to build to scale, but even in its baby phase right now, people send me emails and they’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, I love it.'”
BloomCatch was initially built as a native iOS app, Magee said, but the company recently moved over to Flutter to continue development and expand to Google Play. Eventually, he’s hoping to add capacity with additional platforms when he’s ready to scale it even further.
For now, Magee is in the midst of creating a “one-stop shop for plant parents” and hoping to add a journal through the app where people can track how often a plant has been watered, or keep track of any issues that come up. When partnering with the local plant shops, he added, he’d like to add a feature to compare prices and show how much a plant costs at one shop versus another.
“Having a single repository where people can have that information at 100% confidence about whatever they buy…that would be immensely powerful and immensely great for consumers,” Magee said.