Our tech start-up of the week is Farmflo.com, a new cloud-based farm management system developed by Donegal brothers Gareth and Jason Devenney to help bring farmers into the digital age.
The duo have come up with a web-based farm management solution to allow farmers to manage records, such as inventories, details on crops and livestock, as well as key farm metrics.
Gareth, who runs the family farm in the Lagan Valley in Co Donegal, says he was looking around for farm management software, but found everything was either too expensive or too complicated.
He then enlisted the help of his brother Jason, a software developer who has worked for the likes of Walt Disney and Global Aerospace, to help him come up with a solution. And in early 2012 Farmflo was born.
"Jason saw all of the paperwork that I was doing so he came up with an idea to build a cloud-based app," explains Gareth.
"The first application came together very quickly and some friends who are farmers expressed an interest so we shared it with them and they started feeding into the product and it grew from there into Farmflo," he says.
Gareth describes Farmflo as an easy-to-use, cost-effective application for farmers to capture information about their farms and he is keen to get across that Farmflo is a service that has been developed by farmers for farmers.
"It has been developed using cloud technology to give farmers the ability to use an internet-connected device to capture the information real-time in the field, yard or barn rather than in the evenings after a day’s work," says Devenney.
The idea of the service is to allow farmers to input information from suppliers to inventories on farm machinery, chemicals and medicines used on animals.
"You can store all of the tag numbers of animals and there’s the potential to keep track of animals from birth to the factory," he says.
At the minute, 100 farmers are testing the beta version of the start-up’s first application for sheep.
Farmflo’s second application for crops should be ready for beta testing by the end of January, followed by a cattle app in the summer and then a dairy app, explains Devenney.
"Our objective is to provide an integrated solution that allows farmers to select the applications that define their farming practices. These are then accessed through a single integrated interface similar to Facebook," he says.
Farmflo now employs four people, but the start-up is set to move into the CoLab innovation centre at Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT) where Devenney says it will avail of hotdesk facilities and business supports.
He says the aim is to grow the technical team in the coming months. "We could also tie in with students to come into the CoLab and develop more projects."
Devenney says Farmflo has the potential to be developed for other areas, such as biomass and aquaculture.
Exhibiting at the Dublin Web Summit
Gareth and Jason Devenney caused a stir at the 2012 Dublin Web Summit when they decided to market Farmflo using branded sheep in a pen outside of the RDS building
In October, Farmflo also exhibited at the Dublin Web Summit as part of the START programme, which Devenney says was a great help in exposing the company to investors and industry contacts.
"The START programme gave us the opportunity to meet other exciting tech start-ups in similar stages and more advanced stages to ourselves and it was great sharing war stories and picking their brains for advice," he explains.
At the Dublin Web Summit, Farmflo also made it to the semi-final stage of the Spark of Genius contest, which was eventually won by the US start-up SmartThings.
As for future plans, Farmflo has received a Competitive Start grant from Enterprise Ireland, which it will leverage to grow the product.
"The grant provides us with industry-experienced mentors and access to research material and funding to grow our idea," explains Devenney. "We will also be looking for a developer and will be carrying out marketing research."
In 2013, he says the plan is to firstly test the market in Ireland and the UK.
"Our immediate plan is to grow a team to develop the service that will allow us to dominate this field in our local markets. At the same time, we will be working on our strategy for expansion into global markets," explains Devenney.
The start-up has added New Zealand accountant and entrepreneur Hamish Edwards, the co-founder of the accounting software platform Zero, as a board adviser.
"We will expand into the New Zealand marketplace if all goes well," adds Devenney.
Finally, his advice for other self-starters is to pick an area where they have experience of the problem.
"There are so many tools on the internet where you can learn to build the initial product yourself, allowing you to validate your idea without committing to much," he adds.