Long Read: Profitability, Cambridge and Scaling up – an interview with Richard Hobson from Herdsy

As sponsors of the Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards AgriTech of the Year Award, we’ve been keeping a close eye on the finalists.  As we prepare for the Awards ceremony on the 1st November 2018, we wanted to showcase a bit more about the four finalists as exciting members of the Cambridge AgriTech cluster.

All about Herdsy

Man in yellow suit and hatRichard Hobson CEO and Founder of Herdsy is a recent addition to Cambridge, but he does have a connection to the area, as his family is descended from the famous Cambridge Hobsons. You could say that livestock is in his blood. He got the idea for his company because his family members have always kept animals and mentioned that they had no way to keep an eye on them while they were at work during the day.

Richard’s intention was to develop an initial prototype for an affordable profitability tracker for animals. Worn as a collar, his cloud-based tagging and tracking mechanism would monitor the key performance indicators of all livestock, whatever their species, wherever they were in the world. What’s more they would provide alerts and updates on key data such as lameness and weight gain, even informing the farmer if a dog was chasing his sheep (or a lion was chasing his buffalo).

Why AgriTech?

Richard used to work in IBM and saw that AgriTech was going to be huge.  He said,

The industry was crying out for someone to come from outside to disrupt, the technology was only being built for very wealthy dairy farmers, nothing was being built for smaller farmers or other animals.  AgriTech was starting to become a rich man’s club – this annoyed me – the industry was upside down so I moved in to fill the gap.

Why Cambridge?

Having founded the company, Herdsy were trying to raise funds in Ireland.  However, there was a pilot programme which was run by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership, with the aim of bringing AgriTech ideas into the Cambridgeshire area. Having received funding Herdsy decided to set up their Global HQ in Cambridge. Richard spoke about Cambridge,

There is no place like Cambridge, people care about quality of the idea more than where you are from.  I couldn’t have achieved what I have achieved anywhere else. Cambridge is a very special place, with all the different types of technology and advisors in one place.  We have seen all this growth in just under 2 years, the connections in Cambridge are there to make it happen really fast, it just wouldn’t have happened like this anywhere else.

Having won an award for Most innovative Tech Product in China in 2017, Herdsy has developed exciting new partnerships in China and also have plans to open offices in Ireland and South Africa by end of the year.

Productivity

In the UK, the government’s Industrial Strategy highlights AgriTech as a key way to meet productivity targets in the future.  We asked Richard about how his technology helps improve productivity.

wearable devices for animals

This technology is all about improving productivity, last year in the UK cattle farmers were fined for sending over-fattened beef to market. The UK imported 250,000 tons of beef last year, increasing output and profitability of our home-grown beef has to be a good thing for our food security.

Global Food Security

At SmithsonHill, improving global food security is a key driver for us – we asked Richard what he thought is the single most important thing to improve global food security.

We need to go back to home grown is better grown. Carbon expensive food is becoming a thing of the past, it doesn’t make sense to bring beef from Brazil. Additionally, in the USA 60% of all antibiotics prescribed are prescribed to livestock. Brexit presents a unique opportunity for the UK to become a major exporter of food to the EU and Beyond. We need new technologies to provide this and the UK can lead the way.

Agricultural Revolution

At SmithsonHill, we see AgriTech as the beginning of the next agricultural revolution – we asked Richard if he thought one was needed.

I think we are on the verge of a revolution, yields need to increase 65% year on year to feed the people we currently have in the world, there is a tsunami of change coming as technology is becoming accessible. Globally we are at the nexus of technology and agriculture, creating a network of ‘farmerpreneurs’. A big change is coming, weather we like it or not. It is a very exciting time to be part of Agriculture and farming.

We think so too, having spent some time chatting to Richard, we think they are going to be a very exciting player in the Cambridge AgriTech cluster in the future, especially as they have just opened up a £750,000 funding round to drive their next stage of scale up.

We’ll be watching them to see what happens next!