Our start-up of the week is Moocall, makers of an internet of things device that warns a farmer when a cow is one hour from birthing to ensure cow and calf are cared for in the event of a difficult birth.
Thanks to the technology – believed to be a world first — farmers will no longer need to monitor CCTV or visit calving sheds.
“Moocall is a wireless sensor that can be attached easily to the tail of an animal,” explains founder Niall Austin, a farmer from Offaly who is now fully engaged in start-up mode.
“It is a device that can accurately predict when she is about to give birth and then send a text alert to the farmers phone on average an hour beforehand.”
Austin explains that the device has already been warmly accepted in the Irish market, as well as overseas.
“After testing the product to the full in the main Irish spring calving, we are confident to start supplying retailers in different countries. Since launching our product at the National Ploughing Championships in 2014, we have sold 2,500 units, mainly in Ireland through our own office directly without any retailers.
“We have achieved online sales in 15 different countries on a small scale.
“Our plans are to have up to 6,000 units sold in the next six months through retailers, online and direct sales.
“To give you an example of market size in Ireland, there are 70,000 suckler farmers, with 40,000 who have less than 20 cows. There are 20,000 dairy farmers and growing.”
Moocall is the product of three years of R&D by Austin, a farmer from Offaly, who lost heifers and calves on his own farm when he was unable to make it to the birth in time.
“I was brought up in the farming scene and achieved the Green Cert in farming at third level. The other two founders in the business are involved in the construction industry.”
The Moocall unit constantly measures the pelvic area of the animal up to 600 times per second during sleep mode.
“When the animal reaches a certain stage during labour our unit wakes up and uses a machine-to-machine (M2M) SIM as a communications chip to contact our server. When this action occurs a text alert is then sent to the farmer’s mobile phone.”
Austin said the reason for using an M2M SIM was to ensure the unit always found a GSM network to connect to in order to ensure farmers were alerted on time.
“Using this specialised SIM has also given us a global product. By using sleep mode with our unit we are achieving 30-days-plus before the farmer has to recharge their unit, and it will also tell the farmer when to do this.”
Belief is the key to a successful hardware start-up
Austin said that the market’s warm reception of the product at an early stage has given him the confidence to start dealing with retailers in different countries.
“It also gives me the confidence to bring other products to the market through Moocall based around similar technologies. I would be aiming to produce a new product every 15 months to help the company grow in strength and size.”
Austin says he listened to customer feedback and made changes to improve the product and back-up services.
The company took on new shareholders before launching the product with a few well-known names such as Michael Smurfit and the Irish Farmers Journal.
Moocall has also qualified for HSPU funding from Enterprise Ireland.
“Starting a business or designing a new product in Ireland or abroad is never easy. First of all, for me, I believed from the start that this product would work. Believe it or not my first call was to Enterprise Ireland as I had no experience in this area. I was steered towards the third-level colleges and I picked AIT to prove this could work electronically.
“This was only a start with a piece of electronics that could only work in the lab.
“I was four years getting the idea to a finished stage, but with every step I took I often met a crossroads, but farmers on the ground with whom I was testing it could see the potential and that kept me going.”
Austin’s advice to other start-ups developing a business or a new product is to bring it as far as they can themselves and if it is commercially viable don’t be afraid to bring in investment to allow the business to grow and prosper.
“Investors can also bring a lot of knowledge to a business, which will benefit the founder and the business going forward. Don’t be greedy.”