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Under the radar: ‘What happens when you put a sensor on a cow?’

Before winning the Web Summit pitch competition last week, not many people had heard of ‘fitbit for cows’ startup Connecterra. Pakistan-born co-founder Yasir Khokhar moved to The Netherlands two years ago to settle in De Kaag, a rustic village of 150 inhabitants. It was there he ‘fell in love’ with cows, grazing peacefully in his neighboring backyard.  

What happens when you put a (“cow friendly!”) sensor on a cow? Khokhar wondered. “There are a lot of hardware and big data-startups”, he says. “But no one really makes sense of the data.” A friend in Pakistan with a dairy farm pointed out the added value. “Learning about the cattle’s behavior helps to create a smarter and more productive farm.”

Connecterra was founded in Amsterdam a year ago, but stayed ‘under the radar’ because it’s only supposed to launch officially in the first half of 2016. “We were part of Smart Agri Food, an EU sponsored accelerator”, Khokhar says. Although winning their pitch competition too, no one picked it up.

Non-invasive

A non-invasive, light-weight, sensor necklace was designed with a €40k injection from the programme and private investments. It for example tracks when and how he cow is eating, drinking and ruminating. Detecting the cows temperature and behaviour via a cloud platform, it can also tell whether it’s fertile. “Veterinarians may have access to the data and check if there is a problem when the animal is not eating.”

Khokhar currently runs a pilot project on a dairy farm in Leeuwarden, in the north of The Netherlands and works with a team of 5 from Amsterdam. He is still researching the best revenue model for his startup and testing his device. “Clients are already lining up”, he says. “We are also talking to investors.”

Future proof agriculture and food security are among the greater questions of our time. In most sectors, the use of new technology is still minimal, Khokhar says. “Current techniques in the dairy industry have been around for decades.”

Milk business

Connecterra is however not the only data startup in the milk business. It aims to prevail by giving people access to insights. “Without the need of big machines or a PhD.” Because most farmers don’t have the time or knowledge to analyze all the data their cattle produces.

The dairy industry has nonetheless become an over productive and competitive market, especially in Europe. “Now the quota system is abandoned, farmers are increasingly interested in figures”, Khokhar says. “We can signal trends, provide comparative data and overviews whilst securing the farmers privacy.”

The entrepreneur therefore sees big opportunities for his business. “Our vision is to build a platform that can scale to the future demands of the farmers in the Dairy Industry and impact others in the value chain too”, Khokhar says. The broader goal is to solve ‘real problems of the future.’

“The Web Summit 2015 alpha startup pitch competition was our first appearance ever”, he says. “It has led to a whole lot of attention. And we just got started.”

This article is part of our Under the radar series, in which we highlight startups you probably haven’t heard of already. Read part 1 here.

Picture by Sarah MacMillan (creative commons via Flickr)

Suzanne Blotenburg
Tweets @SuusNL - Journalist & writer in the fields of business and economics. Co-editor-in-chief @StartupJuncture. Likes to write about #Startups #Entrepreneurship #Policy #Innovation #Newconomy

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