What exactly does elderly care have to do with date palm trees?
While you might not immediately connect those two topics, we unearthed some interesting common ground at the last Factory IoT Brunch on September 28th, which focused on 'Simple Solutions to Save Billions'.
The brunch featured two invited speakers: Bryony Cooper, Chief Acceleration Officer at Arkley Brinc VC, who provides VC and acceleration for IoT and connected hardware startups, and Jens Grudno, CEO and founder of healthcare venture AssistMe (formerly Assistr), from company builder in IoT and blockchain, Next Big Thing AG.
The two speakers clarified that using technology to solve real-world problems that deal with basic human issues (like access to food crops and hygiene,) are not only worthy of our attention, they are a financially sound investment.
To kick off the brunch, we heard from Bryony who has vast experience from at least three angles of startups: Founder, Accelerator, and VC. She herself has been a founder, mentor, and fund manager. She’s especially interested in IoT and connected hardware, drones, smart health, and urban living.
Although she touched upon Brinc’s approach to mobility, smart cities, and supply chain, her primary focus of the talk was on sustainable agriculture. Bryony emphasized that in order to meet global food needs, we need to increase agricultural output by 70%. Some ways to achieve this include automated irrigation, innovative pest control, and better plant monitoring, perhaps with drones.
“Making Palm Trees Talk”
Bryony discussed a situation in the GCC/Gulf region that she is highly familiar with. She’s been advising a startup called “Nakheel”, which means ‘date palm’ in Arabic. The startup addresses the fact that the country’s date palms are at risk of losing major yields, due to an infestation of a weevil, as pest which moves into the tree. Since a palm takes 4 years to grow to maturity, but its yield can then be harvested for many, many years, the loss of even one tree has big impact on food production.
The startup’s innovative answer lies in a sensor which ‘listens’ to the tree for sounds of the weevil and alerts farmers accordingly in real-time. Nakheel is working with the government who is also invested in a positive outcome for this important crop. In addition to dates, Bryony explored how a water monitoring startup, WATR, is developing sensors that can test water for pH quality and presence of contaminants.
“If It’s Boring, You Have a Chance”
Next to speak was Jens Grudno, who has taken on a personal challenge and scaled it up. After having a long-term nursing case among his own relatives, he founded a company that aims to ‘care for those who once cared for us.’ He noted that globally, 200 million people deal with incontinence-related issues and the numbers are only growing as the ageing population expands.
Yes, he acknowledges this is not a ‘sexy topic’, but therein lies its strength: dealing with a serious, and often taboo topic is something few dare to challenge. Care for incontinence has hardly evolved – until now. Yet people who need regular changing of incontinence pads or pants, are at risk for health complications (most often urinary tract infections as well as skin ailments). This health condition is not going away; In fact, the caregiver ratio is worsening.
AssistMe’s solution involves low-cost sensors which are printed into the pant during the production process with conductive ink. If caregivers can be notified of timely changes it will benefit everyone involved, from caregiver to patient. With AssistMe’s integrated solution which they are currently testing, a caregiver’s workflow could be make more efficient – saving discomfort for patients and costs for healthcare providers.
If the new smart version of incontinence pants can be acquired at an affordable rate, for example through efficient mass production, the possibilities are obvious: proper processes and more efficient care and a rollout that starts locally, but could easily scale globally. This fits in perfectly with AssistMe’s mother company, NBT’s values, which focus on pragmatic solutions for real-world challenges, where there’s a clear market and business model.
Jens suggests to new founders in the audience to focus on problems that are “super boring, and not going away.” This naturally weeds out the competition who is focused more on exciting developments like drones, yet guarantees longevity for the business.
Up Next: Hardware Massive + NBT
It was a treat to hear from these two experts in their fields in a personalized atmosphere of Factory Berlin – just one of the many benefits of being a member here.