Adelaide agtech startup MEQ Probe has raised $500,000 in funding from farming industry heavyweights, to test and develop its laser technology for measuring the quality of meat.
The funding comes from agricultural producer-owned industry body Meat & Livestock Australia, as well as meat processing giants Teys Australia and the Midfield Group.
Founded 18 months ago by chief executive Jordy Kitschke, MEQ Probe was born out of agtech-focused research commercialisation company Availer.
The startup uses laser technology and nanoscale biophotonics to assess the marbling and tenderness of meat, and therefore measure its quality for eating.
Having come from a line of sheep farmers himself, Kitschke tells StartupSmart he noticed a gap in the market.
“At the moment there’s no objective way to measure the quality of meat,” he says.
“It’s been a pain point in the industry for many years now,” he adds.
The funding will allow Kitschke to test the technology commercially, on 2,400 sheep and cattle of various breeds, seasons and production systems.
The focus of the project is on “strengthening the algorithm that converts the spectral data into end-quality data,” he says.
Data from MEQ Probe will be compared with “true eating-quality data”, with the results being plugged back into the technology to improve the algorithm, Kitschke adds.
Getting backing from industry partners is significant for the startup. Not only do they bring on board experience and an insight into on-the-ground challenges for producers and processing businesses, but they also prove there’s an issue to be addressed.
“From day one we’ve centered this around industry partners,” Kitschke says.
“Getting validation that this is a real pain point is vital for us to move forward. If we didn’t have that validation from them we would have pulled the pin a long time ago,” he adds.
MEQ Probe is just one of several startups to apply modern innovation to age-old agricultural dilemmas.
In August, farm management software startup AgriWebb raised $14 million in funding for its cloud-based software-as-a-service to improve productivity for farmers.
In February this year, agricultural blockchain startup AgriDigital raised $5.5 million in Series A funding, while blockchain-based logistics platform BlockGrain raised $3.5 million in an initial coin offering pre-sale in April.
Agriculture is one of the least digitised industries in the world, Kitschke says, but now people are realising that to access the opportunities in the sector “you have to build things specifically for agtech”.
There are “specific nuances you have to consider” when providing technology for the space, he adds, even simple things like considering farmers may not always have good connectivity.
“We’re seeing people work closer with the industry to build things they really need,” Kitschke says.
And the agtech industry is still in the early stages, he adds. For MEQ Probe, there’s a pipeline of products Kitschke would like to eventually bring to market.
“There are literally millions of pain points that are yet to be addressed,” he says.
When launching a startup in the agtech space, “there’s no such thing as a dumb idea”, Kitschke says.
However, “it’s always a good idea to bounce your idea off of as many people as you can”.
He advises founders to speak to people in the industry to try and understand whether what they’re addressing is a real problem and “something people would pay to fix”.
And once founders feel their idea is solid, the trick is to “surround yourself with a really strong team … people who share the vision and are prepared to knuckle down”, Kitschke says.
“Nothing is ever built by individuals,” he adds.