The market for crop imaging by drones was saturated, so Vishal Singh pivoted to using unmanned aerial vehicles in the beef industry.
Singh found a need to identify individual ailing cattle within a herd as a measure to improve food production and raise margins, so he experimented with fixing a thermal imaging camera to a drone to look for changes in temperature in the animals.
That idea, too, had trouble getting off the ground.
“The problem, of course, is that the cattle don’t hold still for you,” Singh said.
Through the NMotion Accelerator, an entrepreneur boot camp run in conjunction with NUtech Ventures, Singh partnered with Hastings business owner and Mayor Vern Powers to create a system capable of capturing biometric data of every animal on a feedlot without the need for direct human observation.
The sensors, each built by Communication Systems Solutions of Lincoln, go into an animal’s ear tag -- kind of a Fitbit for livestock -- and transmit body temperature, movement and other data points to a receiver that transmits it to a server where it can be downloaded to the smartphone of a feedlot manager.
Singh's journey from idea to product to testing to market is exactly the process NMotion hoped to create, said Brian Ardinger, entrepreneur-in-residence of NUtech Ventures.
“We designed the accelerator process specifically for companies like this, to find their footing early in order to expand their growth and opportunities," he said.
Quantified Ag will field test its ear tag system at three Nebraska feedlots over the next few weeks before becoming the first start-up company to move into an office at Nebraska Innovation Campus this summer.
It joins two other companies announced as tenants at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's research park Tuesday.
Hastings HVAC and Echo Canyon Services, both owned by Powers, will also open offices in 4,500 square feet of leased space in the Food Innovation Center this summer. The Food Innovation Center includes the renovated Industrial Arts building.
“We’re very excited about being anchor tenants,” said Powers, a 1984 UNL graduate. “As an alum and business owner, I’ve always wanted to do something with the university and this really piqued my interest.”
Hastings HVAC, which sells heating and cooling units around the world, is branching out into pollution mediation research, Powers said. The company’s Innovation Campus space will be responsible for engineering and developing products to be built in the Hastings factory.
Echo Canyon Services, a data servicing and software company, will create several student internship opportunities.
Powers said he plans to lease more space later this year and could potentially bring more companies to Innovation Campus to research medical devices, specialized chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
“Innovation Campus is going to be a huge deal once we get it going,” Powers said. “I told (UNL) Chancellor (Harvey) Perlman last week, 'Let’s get out and knock on doors throughout the state to corral the talent that’s out there.'”
Perlman said Powers’ investment and commitment to Innovation Campus would help contribute to UNL’s “journey of innovation leading to economic growth for all Nebraskans.”
Dan Duncan, executive director of Nebraska Innovation Campus, said all three companies will contribute to the synergy between the private sector and the public university system UNL hopes to create at the former State Fair Park.
“These three companies fit very nicely within Innovation Campus,” he said.
They will join ConAgra Foods, the first tenant announced in 2012, and UNL’s Food Science and Technology Department, which will move from East Campus this summer.
ConAgra Foods, which already conducts research in concert with UNL, will use lab space at Innovation Campus to do research on popcorn and tomatoes.
The Omaha-based Fortune 500 company is also a part of the Nebraska Alliance for Advanced Food Sanitation alongside industry giants like Nestlé, Kellogg’s Hershey’s, Cargill, Johnsonville, 3M, Ecolab and Neogen.
Duncan said more companies could be announced as partners and leaseholders at Innovation Campus in upcoming months as the Food Innovation Center and neighboring Greenhouse Innovation Center wrap up construction.
“Some of them are closer than others and they will all take their own timeframe,” he said.
Singh, a multimedia developer at UNL’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said the opportunity to move to Innovation Campus is the right step for his growing startup.
“I’m one of those people who finds it exciting to work on things that are new and with people of the same mindset,” he said.