Losses from mastitis, especially subclinical, cost farmers around the country thousands of dollars in lost production and vet bills each year. It’s one of the most common issues on dairy farms across the globe and is something that Kiwi start-up, Herdsman SCC, is tackling with their sensor technology.
Meet the founder Paul Johnstone. He is one of the start-ups taking part in our three-month Sprout 2023 Accelerator in the Cohort X intake.
Paul has a wealth of experience in R&D in sensor technology for the dairy industry most notably with Sensortec Ltd, a start-up company specialising in high-tech sensor technologies for dairy farms. To help bring his idea to life, he brought in industrial designer Mike Williams who brings with him experience that’s been vital in the design of Herdsman SCC.
“Throughout my career I’ve seen the problems that farmers are facing with mastitis and other issues on farm and I know that there is technology out there that can help. The problem is it’s too expensive and there's a big focus on full automation, which is not always a fit for every farm,” said Paul.
Existing methods of testing for mastitis are slow, often inaccurate and inconsistent. Paul said Herdsman SCC will provide scientific results quickly, efficiently and accurately. The Herdsman SCC sensor has a 20 second processing time and means farmers can get results while standing in the milking shed.
“It’s about getting the technology in their hands cheaply and efficiently so farmers can diagnose and treat the issue quickly, that’s what is driving me.”
Paul’s aspirations for the business are as big as the impact his technology could have on the dairy industry. He wants to have Herdsman SCC in the hands of dairy farmers around the world and already has a lengthy list of complementary and new technologies that could be added to the portfolio.
His next step towards achieving that is switching focus from the technical side of the business to the customer side.
“We went to Fieldays last year and got some great feedback. Farmers immediately understood the technology and were extremely positive about the device. It really helped cement that there is a market for this out there, now it’s just about what type of farmers we want to target and working with them to develop how it can be used in a practical setting.”
While the idea has been ruminating in Paul’s mind for five years, it wasn’t until three years ago he decided to really focus on it. It’s been a whirlwind of learning curves since then, having to juggle the need and desire to collaborate and seek advice from other people but needing to be mindful about patents and intellectual property.
“At the start I would have loved to talk to more people and be more open but I kept everything close to my chest because of that. When we went to Fieldays we got a provisional patent which was quite a freeing feeling to be able to speak fairly openly about what I was doing.”
Like many entrepreneurs, feelings of doubt and fear have been a constant friend in the back of his mind, but with a supportive family and fate stepping in to give him a well-timed nudge, he said he hasn’t regretted a second of his self-employed life.
“I always knew I had an entrepreneurial streak but being made redundant certainly gave me that extra push I needed to take the next step. It’s really cool to be your own boss and not be stuck in the daily grind of what the world expects of people.
“A lot of New Zealanders don’t back ourselves enough. There are so many great ideas that never come to fruition because people don’t say ‘Hey, I can do this, I will do this.' Being involved in things like Sprout gives you access to some amazing advice that can help you along the way.”
Paul is hoping Sprout can help further support him in his next steps of focusing on the customer and helping him put together a solid structure and business plan for the company.
“For myself, and I feel a lot of other entrepreneurs, we’re creative people and sometimes it’s hard to focus on those things because we’re so excited by that creative side, but it’s so important in moving the business forward, especially if you’re seeking investment.”