Business stories of interest this week

Business stories from the past week, compiled by Jason Maywald:

1) Sydney University student’s satellite farm analysis startup raises $15m for US expansion 

An aussie start-up, born out of a program designed to get uni students out of their textbooks and into the real world of business, has brought together drones, satellites, farmers and fertiliser to create an unlikely success story.

The brainchild of University of Sydney student Anastasia Volkova, FluroSat is a data analytics platform for farmers which combines drone and satellite imagery with algorithms to assess plant health, diagnose problems and direct fertiliser application.

So far, 130 farms have signed up to its test platform in a little over a year.

“The easiest way to imagine it is like an X-ray for plants,” the 26-year-old said. “When taking an X-ray you can separate tissues from bones. When you take a camera that has very high spectral resolution, you can see every wavelength of light being separated into different layers of information, just like bones and muscles.

“The system basically highlights the hot spots which are inconsistent with the rest of the field. Farmers use this map to identify where crops need more fertiliser.


2) Amazon CEO Bezos to spend his fortune on space travel 

Jeff Bezos wants to make space travel as dynamic and entrepreneurial as the internet.

“The price of admission to space is very high,” Bezos said on Saturday night in New York, accepting the Buzz Aldrin Space Exploration Award at the Explorers Club Annual Dinner. “I’m in the process of converting my Amazon lottery winnings into a much lower price of admission so we can go explore the solar system.”

Bezos previously said he’s funding rocket company Blue Origin to the tune of $US1 billion a year through the sale of Amazon stock. His comments at the event suggest that may be only the start of his financial commitment to the project, which is developing reusable rockets.


3) Kaufland prepares for grocery war

Kaufland is preparing to mount its attack on Australia’s supermarket giants — and shoppers are set to benefit. The German discount supermarket heavyweight has launched a high-level recruitment drive ahead of its launch into the Australian market.

The chain’s owners, the Schwarz Group, have already purchased a former Bunnings site in Dandenong, Melbourne for $16.4 million and in 2017 the company paid $25 million for a sprawling 3.6ha Adelaide property.

Kaufland has reportedly been looking for more sites in Queensland, and 11 Australian positions have been advertised on job site, including a “future leader program” which would see successful applicants spend nine months in Germany for a training course.


4) Melbourne Adelaide airports take international passengers from Sydney

Sydney Airport is declining in importance as a gateway for international travel to and from Australia as a bigger proportion of people choose to fly through smaller cities, including Melbourne, Adelaide and the Gold Coast.

Only 40 per cent of all international passengers to Australia now fly through Sydney, down from 46 per cent a decade ago, according to a new report by Deloitte Access Economics prepared for the Australian Airports Association.

Brisbane Airport is also used by a lower proportion of international passengers, with 14 per cent choosing to travel through the Queensland airport in 2016-17 compared with 18 per cent a decade ago.


5) Woolies scraps gift card expiry dates

Retail giant Woolworths is scrapping the expiry dates on all its gift cards, giving shoppers the freedom to choose exactly when they want to use them.

Woolies says all gift cards for use at its supermarkets and other retail outlets will be sold without expiry dates from 31 March. Expiry dates will also be lifted for Woolies gift cards bought from the end of March last year.

Woolworths head of financial services and insurance Chris Cramond said the move goes further than the retailer’s announcement in late 2017 to extend expiry dates from one to three years.

“After talking to more of our customers about this in recent months, we’ve decided to go one better and scrap gift card expiry dates for good,” he said on Thursday. “It means one less thing to worry about for our busy customers, who will have complete flexibility to use gift cards as and when it suits them.”