Animal AgTech

Prime Future 46: How cattle feeders are making innovation real

“You’ve built a Tesla for a market that needs a Ford. A used Ford. Without doors.”

That’s the flavor of feedback that innovators need to hear as early as possible. That’s the kind of feedback that can either point to hardware/software product changes that need to be made OR point creators to a different market, to a different pricing model, or to (really) finding product-market fit, where a product creates measurable ROI for a specific set of customers.

And it’s the kind of feedback that applicants to the Beef Alliance Startup Challenge are getting. The last several months I’ve been working with some forward looking leaders in the cattle feeding segment on an initiative that began when they started asking, how do we drive meaningful innovation to cattle feeding?

The bulk of the event hasn’t even happened yet but below are a few observations on what I’ve seen so far and some thoughts for participants from both sides of the table.

(Quick recap on the model: The Beef Alliance selected 10 finalist companies (listed below) to present directly to CEO’s, vets, and nutritionists at major cattle feeding co’s in a pitch competition. Last week, that same audience screened 30+ applicants. Direct feedback was shared with all the startups, even those who weren’t selected. The winning company will get to run a pilot with one of the cattle feeders. )

(1) Why I like the model:

  • Creates direct alignment of future paying customers with those who are in various stages of developing solutions.
  • For founders, this means early access to prospective customers to get early feedback to either accelerate development or prevent costly mistakes that might not have been discovered until much later.
  • For cattle feeders, this means early influence to engage and shape what’s coming down the pipeline. Hopefully this means cattle feeders get solutions sooner that work better than they would have otherwise.
  • The practicality of it all. Applying the pragmatic lens of how a hardware solution has to withstand weather elements, dust, etc of cattle pens, or how traceability software has to be both user friendly AND have a clear value proposition.

(2) Encouragement to cattle feeders (or any producer engaging with startups):

  • Remember that innovation is messy. Calibrate your expectations. I’m not saying don’t have high expectations….have the highest of standards but make sure they are development stage appropriate for the company. Maybe that means you only engage with companies that have hit certain milestones, cool – that’s good clarity to have.
  • Be fair. This is a low margin business and any new product has to have a compelling value proposition. But you have to split that value appropriately with tech providers, or new tech will not flow to the segment.
  • The trick is finding solutions for known problems like BRD which could make an immediate impact, versus finding solutions to the problems we don’t recognize because they are as familiar and as accepted as breathing air. How do you keep one foot in both worlds, of innovation that solves for today’s business and innovation that will enable you to operate better in 5-10+ years?

(3) Encouragement to founders:

  • All feedback is a gift…but look for trends. Hear the hard feedback, but go verify if that feedback is consistent or just an n of 1 that should be noted but not acted upon.
  • Paint your big vision but be radically transparent about where you are in the journey. What do you know today, what do you not know yet, what is your plan for getting answers to the outstanding questions. No one wins when expectations are mismanaged.
  • Sometimes you need to change how you tell the story, sometimes you need to change the story itself. It’s your job to investigate why the pitch isn’t resonating.
  • Fundraising is not validation, cold hard cash money from customers is validation.
  • The Industry (in any industry) is not your market. An industry does not pay for your product, a customer does. Solving a problem for a specific set of customers who capture value, who are willing to pay for that value captured…that’s your market. Dialing this in tight early on allows you to get traction to expand your target market later.

Ten startups tackling cattle feeding

Ok, this list of finalist companies is legit. These solutions are relevant, creative but practical, and have potential for big impact:

  • Resilient Biotics – using data analytics to design microbiome-based therapeutics.
  • BlockTrust – blockchain-based livestock supply chain transparency platform.
  • Cattler – software solution that integrates operational and production data into a mobile management platform.
  • Pix Force – an AI-based system to assess the quantity of feed left in bunks.
  • Bezoar Laboratories – developing a novel patented probiotic that reduces methane in ruminants while reducing food-borne pathogens and increasing feed-efficiency.
  • IsoMark – breath biomarker technology for early infection detection in cattle.
  • Precision Livestock Technologies – uses machine vision and AI to collect feedyard data, including feedbunk management, cattle health, and performance.
  • Deken Technology – developing a solution that will use sensors and machine learning for cattle health monitoring, including early detection of BRD.
  • Ripe Technology – blockchain network to enhance transparency across the beef supply chain.
  • ProAgni – antibiotic replacements that have potential to increase animal performance and reduce methane emissions.

It will be fun to see this initiative evolve and especially the ultimate outcomes.

Pork and poultry leaders….👀

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