Startup Spotlight: Transport Genie is tackling animal welfare during transport with its micro-climate sensors

March 16, 2020

Livestock technology is gaining momentum both in terms of investor interest and the types of technologies being developed. From precision biologics to replace antibiotics to AI-powered tools to help get the headcount right to computer vision to do daily health checkups, startups are tackling some of the industry’s biggest pain points.

For consumers, welfare continues to be one of the biggest concerns about meat consumption. This often comes down to a discussion about how the animals are treated on the farm but what about the crucial step between the farm and the butcher? Transport poses a variety of concerns regarding welfare particularly over long distances or during times of the year where harsh weather conditions make the journey even more stressful. On top of the inherent welfare concerns that are raised during transport, the industry has a financial incentive to curb high-stress travel. If an animal experiences stress prior to processing it can result in poor quality meat.

“Presently, animal livestock transportation is void of novel technologies and is, for the most part, ignored and not seen as important. But when you think about the time, effort, and financial resources that are spent to grow these animals–from housing, food, watering, and medication–and then once they are market-ready, they ship them in steel containers void of any technology or monitoring, it just doesn’t make sense,” Joel Sotomayor, president and CEO of Transport Genie, tells AFN. “Furthermore, just like people who have bad experiences traveling, cortisol is released as a by-product of a bad transportation event and it can negatively affect meat quality and eventually market price.”

Canadian agtech startup Transport Genie is a precision monitoring company that is focused on monitoring microclimate conditions as animals are being transported. It’s developed bespoke IoT sensors and a real-time event-driven ecosystem to enable smart decisions regarding livestock welfare during transport.

The technology can also talk to other machines and turn on different environmental controls like fans or misters. It also provides a message broker service to alert the driver when conditions may be creating welfare hardships for the animals. This has the added benefit of letting the driver focus on driving instead of trying to operate environmental controls or pulling over routinely to check on the animals. 

“We basically provide assurance by using data and predictive analytics to various stakeholders in the animal protein food production chain. We can ensure that all actors in the transportation piece of the food production chain are doing their very best to deliver animals to their destination in stress-free conditions.”

Read on to learn more about how this startup is tackling this critical pain point in the livestock technology sector.

Tell us more about the technology that you’ve built.

We have built the following sensors to measure the following micro-climate conditions: temperature, humidity, CO2, Ammonia, and a surface-mount thermocouple sensor that measures the temperature of a surface by direct contact. These sensors then communicate to our In-Cab Device via our own proprietary data-exchange protocol to ensure that the data that we receive is secure and is one from one of our sensors. 

We decided to have a security-focused approach in our system design and we not just encrypt all of our data but we also employ other techniques to make sure that data is compressed and delivered quickly while maintaining data integrity. Our secure data envelop enables these interactions to occur seamlessly. We then offer value-add services to customers who are looking to harness our predictive modeling algorithms to increase efficiencies and improve supply-chain and order fulfillment.

When did you launch and what growth stage are you at currently as a company?

We launched in late 2017 and we are already in the “scale-up” stage. We already have customers and up-coming trials in Canada, Switzerland, Netherlands, Australia, the UK, and the Philippines. We are also talking with truck manufacturers in The Netherlands and Canada who want to use our technology in the manufacturing of their trailers. We are also in discussions with other technology companies in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union to collaborate on our technologies and offer novel value-add solutions.

Who is your target customer?

Even though we created our own sensors we are not a sensor company. We see ourselves as a data acquisition company and our customers are those companies who want to use data to make informed decisions. Right now our customers are varied. We have truck manufacturers, various producers, animal livestock haulers, racehorse haulers, and even private individuals who want to track their companion pets being delivered to them from far-away breeders. We are also doing research projects with Universities who want to measure how transportation can negatively affect meat quality and animal behavior. 

Researchers are also using our sensors to find the optimal placement of these sensors and the right quantity of sensors. We are also part of a big research project to measure and validate the Thermo-Assisted Drying and Decontamination (TADD) system as part of a Biosecurity protocol to make sure livestock trailers are free of diseases and don’t become vectors of disease spread.

Do you have any competitors?

We have only found a few competitors in this space but they don’t have the system architecture that we have. We offer real-time messaging via our message broker service and the fact that we can interact with other machines located on trailers puts us in a different space since machine to machine (M2M) enables communication of devices without any human intervention. In addition, they don’t have any predictive analytics to help companies minimize costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by optimizing routes, and are not digitizing the truck manifest. 

What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?

Power budgets are always challenging parts of creating battery-powered sensors. Ultimately, we created our own Real-Time Operation System (RTOS) to find the sweet spot of battery optimization and data collection.

What’s been the most surprising aspect of your startup journey so far?

It’s been the conversations that we had with individuals and corporations that have led to more “Eureka” moments. We have been able to pivot very quickly and have found new opportunities and other markets that we didn’t foresee when we started this journey. 

Do you have any mentors that have assisted you along the way?

We have just been connected with the Business Development Bank of Canada who have been great supporters of our business and they are helping us create a long-term strategic plan for Transport Genie. Dr. Terry Fondstad from the University of Saskatchewan and Angie Hurst from Luckhart Transport both have been great supporters of our technology. Lastly, ALso, Bioenterprise, a unique accelerator from Guelph, Ontario, has also given me a lot of guidance and support.

What’s your view of the current livestock tech ecosystem?

It is an exciting time for livestock tech companies. For a long-time, there was a lot of focus on row crops and very little attention was paid to livestock, but that is changing. We are currently talking to other livestock tech companies all over the world so that we can integrate our technologies together and create novel value-add products and solutions.

Are investors interested in livestock tech? What’s been your fundraising experience so far?

Yes they are, I have started talking to a few investors and I look forward to continuing those conversations. We have just started this journey. We are currently non-diluted and the only investor is my principal company which I have operated for the past 15 years.

Any advice for other startups out there?

To enjoy the journey and be able to accept that your business will take many turns and not to see those as failures but rather new opportunities. 

Where do you hope to be as a company in five years?

We would like our technology to be ubiquitously used in all forms of asset delivery and not just in livestock animals. I’d like companies to use our solution as part of their core business. Your customers are no longer confined to your city or country. The advent of the internet means that your customers are worldwide. It is important to help businesses understand what is happening as their assets are in-transit and our technology helps solve those problems and enables smart decisions to occur.

 

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