Herdwatch, a farming app and software package for dairy and beef cattle farmers, won the inaugural AIB Start-up Academy. Its founder Fabien Peyaud accepted the award after pitching to a panel of judges and a crowd at the Sugar Club in Dublin late last month.
“I was completely shocked and I didn’t see it coming to be honest. Nothing like this has happened to me before,” he said.
Peyaud took home a hefty prize worth €250,000, which includes advertising, professional mentoring and office space in The Irish Times building.
"We're trying to reach business decision-makers, investors and people who read The Irish Times, whether online or in print. Now we have a massive budget to do it," he said.
“I blogged three or four weeks ago about the academy being a game-changer, even before I won it. The knowledge we all gained in the eight weeks was so enriching.”
Herdwatch and 10 other start-ups were chosen from hundreds of applicants to take part in the intensive training programme designed to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses quickly and sustainably.
“We definitely are in the process of changing a few things as a result of what I learned at the academy. An example is social media. One of the things we were struggling with was the multitude of tools out there and how to manage that better.
"Several mentors in the academy gave us very practical tips about what tools you should use and the best content you can put out there. It's about putting your best foot forward in social media. We're trying to do a lot of work in that area to use what we learned," Peyaud said. A time saver for farmers Herdwatch allows dairy and beef cattle farmers to comply with Government requirements by easily keeping electronic records of their herds. It also gives them access to valuable farm records on the go. Farmers can use their smartphone, tablet, laptop or PC to register calves in seconds and stay compliant by recording remedies directly onto their device.
Peyaud estimates that Herdwatch can save farmers, who traditionally had to register calves by post or online after a day’s work, up to four hours of paperwork per week. Farmers can also keep track of their animals’ breeding cycles.
“Herdwatch is a real world technology solution for a real problem. Herdwatch is never about the technology, it’s about how you’re solving the problems. Farmers are not even aware they’re using it.”
Herdwatch is approved by the Department of Agriculture and the ICBF (Irish Cattle Breeding Federation). It is a subscription-based service currently priced at €99 per herd per year.
Peyaud’s background is in IT solutions, and he still has his day job as an IT manager for the FRS Network (Farm Relief Services), which was instrumental in the product’s development.
"They've backed Herdwatch from day one, and they've been with Herdwatch all the way. I pitched it to them, and they've been extremely supportive. They backed the research and development phase of Herdwatch and me personally," Peyaud said. The future of Herdwatch Peyaud did not take a break after his recent success. He is working on Herdwatch version three based on feedback from the 1,000 farmers who already use it.
Version three will simplify the user experience. It will also help farmers with grass management and compliance. Farmers will be able to record their fields in Herdwatch and monitor grass growth, along with spray and fertiliser applications. Peyaud thinks farmers will be interested in the new development.
“The money they make is dependent on how much they can get out of the grass they grow in their fields. If they don’t have to feed their cattle with supplemental food that costs a lot, and if they get a lot out of their grass, they make more money and have less costs.
“I’m not a farmer myself, but I’ve definitely learned a lot over the last three years. Not being a farmer has actually helped me because I don’t have a bias. If you’re into something you have a natural bias for the way you do things. I’m able to be more objective, just asking farmers what they want.”
To give farmers what they want Peyaud says he regularly goes back to the drawing board based on their feedback. Improving the design of Herdwatch is an on-going project.
“We are ahead, but you’re only ahead as long as you keep innovating. We have no intention of stopping.”