Having arrived in Australia as a student, become a lecturer, and then gone on to found his own entrepreneurship institute in Perth, you might think Param Singh had already achieved plenty.
However, in 2014, aged just 29, the entrepreneur decided to pack it all in. He sold the institute to ASX-listed Ashley Services Group and set himself a new challenge: to significantly improve the lives of 100 million people by 2030.
As he started to flex his social enterprise muscle, Singh focused his energies on three verticals, all mainly in India: youth, women and farmers.
First, he launched UDAY, an initiative training young people in India across various sectors, in a bid to meet the needs of the market and drive social change.
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Speaking to StartupSmart, Singh says since launching in 2014, UDAY has trained about 50,000 young learners in India.
Just this year, Singh founded Girls X Tech, an organisation striving to close the gender technology gap in India, particularly in the Punjab region, through accessible coding camps. It also offers leadership and teamwork training, and hopes to connect 10,000 girls with tech-education programs by 2021.
But, while these initiatives are important and admirable, if Singh was to reach his lofty target of 100 million people, he had to think bigger.
“Just by doing youth skill development I will not be able to do that,” he says.
And this is where his solution for farmers comes into play.
There are about 75 million small-holder dairy farmers in India, Singh explains, each with between two and five cows.
He and co-founder Aashna Singh created MoooFarm in a bid to make life easier for these small businesses, by helping them keep their animals as healthy as possible, and even increase their milk yield.
And just last month, MoooFarm won the Worldbank Agtech Challenge for its insurance solution that uses facial recognition for cows.
Facial recognition for cows
Yep, you read that right.
Through its mobile app, MoooFarm alerts cattle owners when their animals are in heat, when they need veterinary checkups and when they need nutritional supplements.
It also provides video and voice chats with veterinarians, as well as tutorials and advice videos for farmers.
Through data analytics, the startup can create an overview of the ecosystem. In a kind of bovine Tinder setup, farmers with cows in heat will be able to see where there are bulls available, or source insemination practitioners, meaning owners don’t miss out on a valuable breeding season.
In addition, through facial recognition technology, the app also allows farmers to create a digital identity for their animals.
From about 20 images of each cow, farmers can build a literal picture for use when insuring their livestock.
According to Singh, of 300 million milk cattle in India, only 9% are insured.
“Cattle is a big asset,” Singh explains.
“If it’s not insured it poses a big risk.”
However, the biggest barrier here is “distrust between the insurance company and the farmer”.
Let’s face it, to the layman, one cow looks largely like another. With no way to identify a single animal, insurance companies are wary of insurance fraud.
If a farmer says their cow has died and tries to claim the insurance money on it, there’s no knowing whether that cow has indeed copped it, or if it’s still out munching on grass with its buddies.
Failure to pay out on claims leads to distrust among farmers, and the cycle continues.
MoooFarm’s facial recognition technology enables accurate identification of each animal.
“The risk of fraud will be reduced significantly,” Singh says.
Equally, the amount of data MoooFarm allows farmers to have access to means they can reduce their insurance premiums. Farmers can show the milk yield, the type of feed and supplements the animal eats, and any medicines it’s been given, as well as it’s breeding history.
“We know the complete cattle history,” Singh says.
Build fast, fail faster
It may seem like this kind of technology is turning everything on its head for cattle farmers in rural India. But according to Singh, the farmers he has worked with have been more than receptive, driving a lot of MoooFarm’s development.
Initially, in fact, the team weren’t looking to set up a whole new business. The initiative started off as ‘Project Mooo’: an investigation into what they could do to support farmers.
“It was never the idea to build a mobile app,” Singh says.
The app first came about when Singh noticed a printed, manually rotating wheel for the cows’ breeding cycles, so the farmers had an idea of when they would be in heat.
“We’re in the 21st century,” Singh noted.
“At least we can automate this.”
The Project Mooo team developed a simple app, and released it to 1,000 farmers across a few villages.
Soon, those farmers were coming back and asking them to solve new problems.
“We built a lot of trust,” Singh explains.
After this, the team worked quickly and closely with their customer base. The farmers would detail a problem, and within a month, they would have created a solution.
Inevitably, however, it would be “very wrong”.
Neither Singh nor any of the initial team members came from the dairy industry, he explains.
So, the idea was never to get it right the first time. It was “to do it fast so they can quickly tell us what’s not right”, he says.
“In terms of usability, it was not built by us, it was built by the farmers,” he adds.
“It’s a very customer-centric approach.”