The most recent E. coli outbreak from tainted romaine lettuce is one of the deadliest in more than 20 years, according to the CDC. Even after almost 200 cases and five reported deaths, federal investigators have only been able to narrow down the source of the attack to an area in Yuma, Arizona.
AgVoice aims to solve this food traceability problem with its hands-free workflow service platform that helps agriculture professionals record insights while on the move. The mobile voice-interactive solution allows agriculture professionals to record and process raw data for note-taking and analytics purposes via Bluetooth.
CEO Bruce Rasa is familiar with the pain points in agriculture — he grew up on a farm in western Missouri, where his father and brother still manage 4,000 acres today. Nearly 20 years of experience in product management at IBM and a stint at the third-largest farm machinery manufacturer exposed Rasa to how technology could help solve those pain points.
The initial idea involved using Google Glass to allow crop growers and food producers to capture information hands-free by using their voice. He went on to validate his idea with more than 800 people over a year-long period. Even though the smart glasses concept didn’t quite take off, Rasa took the lessons from that experience and applied it to bluetooth wearable devices powered by your mobile phone.
“Through the user discovery process, we got dirty and tested it in more than nine different states around the U.S. and did a USDA grant pulling together the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech to find out if this would make people more efficient in the field. We had a hunch, but it’s important to objectively quantify if you can work more productively with a solution like this,” says Rasa.
In an industry that often requires both hands and usually relies on paper to record timely data, the platform helps workers in the field record time-stamped and geolocated data and provides insights on food safety and quality control, providing quality assurance on livestock and crops through automated reports.
Rasa shares that plant inspectors have been their first users, with three paid enterprise pilots in place. “Some of their users would do 300-400 inspections a day,” says Rasa. “They’re extremely heavy data collectors that record on-the-go, while walking or driving. They drive up to 70 percent of their year, changing locations. Their recommendations are very timely.”
On the other side, AgVoice helps food companies share information with concerned customers about the origin, treatment and quality of their food, as well as if it was grown in an environmentally responsible way — and prove it.
“In the new FDA food safety act, it says that records must be made at the same time as the events. This is the perfect example of multiple pain points coming together,” says Rasa. “Instead of having reactive, occasional inspections for food safety, it encourages them to be proactive throughout the entire food chain.”
The startup recently competed in Atlanta Startup Battle, and while they’re concentrating on offering their SaaS cloud-based platform to food enterprises, they hope to offer the product directly to farmers and eventually scale internationally. The company has raised just over $1 million and continues to seek additional financial partners.
“Agriculture is Georgia’s largest sector by number of workers. However, it is the least digitized sector, according to a recent study,” says Rasa. “We see an amazing global opportunity to serve not only our core customers, but have our data make a positive impact down the food chain. We want to champion the individual and help them get more productive.”