Smartbell: using intelligence to improve animal health

We caught up with Veena Adityan, CEO and Co-Founder of Smartbell, to find out more about their animal health intelligence platform and how it is helping improve productivity on the farm.

How did you get into AgriTech?

My co-founder and I were interested in putting our technical abilities to solving problems that affect all of us – and you can’t get more universal than food! When we started exploring the community, talking to farmers and networks we found a welcoming community that told us they needed people with our skillsets bringing in new thinking. Farming has always been close to me personally, growing up in the south of India, spending my summers at my grandparents’ farms and more recently, moved by the plight of some who are getting the worst impact of the climate change, while advancements are not reaching those in need.

Can you briefly explain what your tech is?

Smartbell is an animal health platform – we monitor animals using a series of sensors and other data sources – giving farmers information about their activity, temperature, feeding habits and their surroundings such as air quality and humidity. From this, our intelligence platform analyses the data to pick up early signs of disease, days before visible symptoms can be observed. Through the on-farm assistance app, we not only alert the farmer of animals needing attention but also help triage the symptoms with a decision support system built with the help of top veterinarians and farmers.

As an AgriTech start-up, what would you say are the biggest challenges and opportunities for global scale up of AgriTech companies in Cambridge?

There are lots of opportunities – low penetration of technology with big changes globally in the next 5-10years means that there is a big unmet need. In my opinion we will see some leapfrogging of technology adoption in this space. Meanwhile there are challenges built into the sector, famers often self-describe as “not being early adopters”. While we have enthusiastic farmers trying out the products, commercial uptake is slower. This is the long-game. Although there is a growing investor appetite, understanding of AgriTech is not as good as for other areas like fin-tech and bio-tech but we have good access to grant funding which alleviates this a bit.

Why Cambridge?   

We cannot underestimate the power of Cambridge as a brand, as well as the strength of the tech and entrepreneurial community we have here in the Cambridge Cluster. Additionally, the diversity of the talent pool makes it a great place to recruit for a growing tech start-up. The networks we have in the area provide great support for start-ups and in particular the growing AgriTech cluster that is based here as well, all make this a pretty great place to start and grow a company.

In the UK, the government’s Industrial strategy highlights AgriTech as a key way to meet productivity targets in the future.  How does your technology help improve productivity for farmers?

Farms using our developed solution for youngstock management can anticipate a lifetime productivity increase of up to £200 per animal. The projected industry losses attributable productivity losses due to early-life variations is £200Mpa. The top 10% of farms already have double the calf growth rates – by achieving a 1% improvement in survivability, Smartbell has the potential of adding £21M in increased beef productivity in UK.

In addition, more efficient production will reduce the environmental footprint of the production system. Cattle will finish sooner, water, feed and bedding usage will be reduced and the total greenhouse gas emissions per unit of beef produced will be decreased.

What is the single most important thing we need to do to improve global food security? How are you addressing this?

Perhaps the single most important thing is tackling waste – we often think of the food that is thrown away at the supermarket, and from our homes, but there’s a lot more to be done to make the best use of the resources we have to grow food.

We are working to improve and optimize the value chain by eliminating waste and improving the practices and processes involved in growing healthy animals. Smartbell tackles this by reducing and eliminating disease, reducing the amount the resources needed to achieve the same or better productivity, reducing use of antibiotics and improving the quality of the output so there are less rejections by the value chain downstream.

Is it enough for the industry to make small changes in the way we do things? Is it time for an ‘agricultural revolution’?

It is not about changing everything – it is about keeping what works and adapting the rest to the changing world. Every time there is a big technical/industrial shift there is a leapfrog in the productivity and resources/labour required. We are facing a world where there is more demand for food but less interest in following the profession. At Smartbell, we want to see how we can better leverage technology to make agriculture a more attractive profession for the coming generations and making it more profitable is definitely a big part of this.

Other than yourselves, who are your Ones to Watch in the AgriTech and FoodTech worlds?

I am a big fan of KisanHub, Sachin and Giles have done a great job of navigating the challenges of AgriTech adoption and it’s great to see them make strides every day. The Small Robot Company looks cool too!

Anything else you really want to add?

It is an exciting time to be in AgriTech – and be part of Smartbell. We are ramping up to launch our beachhead product later this year. To support this, we are currently raising a seed round. We are looking to grow our team and have several openings across the board. We are putting out a call to anyone interested – let’s talk!

 

It was great to hear from Veena and the exciting work the Smartbell is getting on with.  You can find out more about them at www.smartbell.io.

 

 Veena’s background is in computer science, specializing in enterprise cloud and data services. Prior to Smartbell, she worked with Amazon.com at San Francisco. She moved to Cambridge in 2014 to pursue her business degree at University of Cambridge, where she met Jose Chitty and co-founded Smartbell.