Feed the Future Challenge Update – Checking in on the Finalists of 2019
It’s been three months since the finalists of the Feed the Future Challenge by Lely were invited to the Lely campus in the Netherlands last November. The pioneering program was designed to support and encourage startups focused on finding innovative solutions for dairy farming by applying new technologies to real-world obstacles. Initiated by Lely, the leading producer of robotics and management data for the dairy farm, and Rockstart , one of Europe’s first startup accelerators, Feed the Future offered eight dedicated startups a launchpad where their ideas could be cultivated, validated, and applied with the intention of aiding the global sustainability challenges of population growth and climate change. For Lely, these startups offered products and technical advancements that inspire and support innovation and product development.
Winners of the Feed the Future challenge were awarded €15.000 and the opportunity to work with Lely and its vast global network, two key elements required to make a significant effect on the farming industry. We got the chance to catch up with six of the eight startups who participated in the program to see where they are now and what they gained from the program.
With a primary focus on animal care in the farming process, Cynomys is the first company to patent an Internet of Things solution for monitoring environmental parameters in animal housings. By providing continuous monitoring and 24/7 access to real-time data from any connected device, Cynomys’ solution turns the spotlight onto the farming environment, optimizing animal productivity as well as their quality of life.
Having been aware of Lely for a long time, Cynomys’ motivation for joining the challenge was by and large to present its solution to a world leader in dairy farming. The exposure to Lely’s leadership team, networks, and facilities greatly benefited the young startup, inspiring even more ideas on how their own production site could mimic such an orderly work-stream.
Now, three months after completing the challenge, Cynomys has successfully closed an online crowdfunding campaign and is on the brink of closing an investment with a major player in the Italian dairy industry. Needless to say, they’ve made plenty of headway in a short amount of time and are eager to begin a new project in their pipeline. When pressed for advice for any startups thinking about joining the next Feed the Future challenge, Enrico Carta & Ambra Milani, the Cynomys founders, stated, “Do it! If you make sure you’re thoroughly prepared with what you want to bring to the challenge, you’ll come home enriched — whether you win or not. This is a challenge where the age-old saying, ‘participating is already winning,’ is profoundly true.”
With a dedicated focus on spectroscopic tools, Senorics is a high-tech spin-off from a project started at TU Dresden that offers a sensor system solution for the analysis of ingredients and compositions of solid and liquid materials. In layman’s terms, this startup helps customers make data-based decisions in everyday life. How does this apply to the dairy farming industry? Senorics’ sensor system offers farmers a cost-effective and powerful analysis of the milk or feed being produced, providing them with invaluable data about the animal, the labor involved, and the CO2 impact, and allowing them to easily make educated decisions.
In terms of direct benefits from the challenge, Senorics’ founders believe they gained the most out of their time spent networking with experts and like-minded entrepreneurs. In their long, passionate discussions, they collected valuable industry insights from Lely’s representatives, which they applied to their solution, and on top of that, they arranged follow-up meetings to deep-dive into a world of new possibilities which could lead to a project with Lely’s customers. Since the program ended, they’ve launched their Senorics NIR Evaluation Kit 1.0, which allows users to explore the technology. This year, they’re looking to pave the way to a Series A investment. On their experience in the program, the founders shared, “It was amazing to see how much Lely is trying to relieve the farmer from manual work. Even to an extent where a tech company like us is stunned and needs to realize that we are stuck in 20th-century thinking while Lely is way ahead of us.”
Combining AI, computer vision, and behavior analytics to provide farmers with actionable insights to better assess their livestock, Wochman was precisely the type of startup that would thrive in the Feed the Future challenge. With the sole goal of helping farmers detect illness in dairy cows, Wochman believes its solution could make a great impact on the $400 billion dairy farming industry. The data they collect allows farmers to score behaviors and perform posture analysis, providing insight on the livestock’s health, and ultimately helping farms improve their cows’ productivity, fertility, and overall health.
Their time spent in the program afforded them a deeper look into the industry, shining a light on certain hurdles they needed to overcome, and how they could collectively have a positive influence on clients. Since completing the challenge, they’ve continued to work with Lely and already have future collaborations scheduled in the pipeline. Working together with Lely, their partners, and others within the industry provided the Wochman founders with some valuable insider discussions where they could tap into their collective wealth of knowledge. The founders give credit to the networking advantages they reaped from the program, stating, “When building a new tech startup in dairy, it’s difficult to network fast and learn from the experts in the field. And this event was the perfect way to introduce us to the international experts in the field.”
When sensors get dirty, they tend to malfunction or supply inaccurate data. LvLogics has a tailored technology that enables sensors to detect blockages and perform self-cleaning functions, without the need for human interference or maintenance. By enhancing the sustainability of farming by reducing the number of feed truck journeys to silo each year, and providing alarms for critical feed thresholds, LvLogics ensures that farmers never run out of feed.
For the founders of LvLogics, Lely’s endorsement of their startup proved to be an invaluable asset for propelling them to international attention. Since the challenge, LvLogics has been in conversation with a number of exciting, potential customers who are interested in participating in trials. On top of this, they’re in negotiations with an investment company that is also a partner in the Lely group. When talking about what they’ve managed to achieve since finishing the challenge, the founders shared the number of significant trials they’ve completed, which suggests their future is looking bright. “Since November, we’ve upgraded our platform and re-developed our product to enhance power efficiency, reduce cost and improve accuracy. This has been our key focus and will result in a scalable product.” As it stands now, it’s only onwards and upwards for LvLogics. Navus Ventures, an investment fund that has a strong link with Lely, just announced to have teamed up with LvLogics! Read more.
Much like the name suggests, this visionary startup has developed a product that deals with a biotech solution dedicated to preventing or treating mastitis in dairy cows, leading to improved animal health through the modulation of the microbiome. The founders touch on how exactly their product helps farmers, explaining, “Mastitis is a major cause of disease and milk loss during dairy production. It also harms animal welfare. Right now the most effective approach is antibiotic use after infection. However, the growth of antimicrobial resistance is making the use of antibiotics cause the regulation of the use of antibiotics in livestock farming (and they are becoming ineffective). Our product will solve the productivity and animal welfare problems caused by mastitis by preventing or treating illness reducing the reliance on antibiotics.”
On their time spent in the program, the founders shared that they were impressed with the variety of technologies that could help the dairy industry and the innovative approach of Lely choosing to partner with Rockstart to apply a startup mindset to such a unique industry. Since the challenge, Proteon has closed a funding round of €10 million, completed field trials of their anti-mastitis product, and are considering even further collaboration with Lely.
Looking specifically at the feeding strategy for cows, Quanturi takes a unique approach to its dairy farming solution. They believe that knowing the quality of the food can do wonders for the cow’s health, and they temper it by controlling the quality of feed before the milk is produced. Though their time in the challenge was mainly for access to the Lely network, Quanturi indicated their pleasure in visiting the Lely facilities and meeting some significant partners. About the experience, the founder elaborated, “I enjoyed the fact that Lely was fully committed. It was very well organized. For a startup, it’s a nice chance to see how big companies are working.”
Since participating in the challenge, Quanturi has signed an important partnership — the details of which cannot be revealed — and they aim to increase their sales to €1.5 million this year. Ideally, 2020 will see them grow from a startup into a full-scale business with an increased international presence. For Quanturi, the Feed the Future challenge was a fortuitous beginning, and they’re eager to take on more challenges ahead.
Are you interested in joining the next Lely challenge? Follow Feed the Future and stay tuned for more information!