The inspiration for Katerina Duke's start-up company, Áine NutriScience, came from her mother, Anna, a retired professor of animal nutrition and businesswoman who spent 30 years advising livestock farmers how to feed their animals for optimum health, sustainability and profit.
“Based on an idea my mother had, we have developed a scalable platform that will make the science of animal nutrition easy and accessible to all farmers,” Duke says.
“Big farms, unlike small ones, have the resources to employ specialists and pay large sums of money for solutions that help them to formulate nutritionally balanced feeding. Apart from being very expensive to buy, these systems are also overcomplicated to use in most cases and need the user to have knowledge of both nutritional science and large database storage.
“Our system makes feeding simple, accessible, interactive, comprehensive, and reflective of an individual farm’s needs, conditions and requirements. It is where animals meet technology.”
Duke moved to Ireland from Moscow in 2007 and studied philosophy and linguistics at Trinity College Dublin followed by an executive MBA there. She then set up her own translation company and ran it for a number of years before joining high-tech start-up, Innalabs, which makes tactical and navigation grade inertial sensors used by a number of sectors including the space industry.
Initial target market
From there she moved to associated start-up, Eiratech Robotics, as business development and marketing manager. She left Eiratech to establish Áine NutriScience with co-founder, Oleg Tyrin, a businessman with an academic background in animal nutrition and a commercial focus on organic animal feeds.
The company's initial target market is the Irish dairy sector. From there the system will be rolled out internationally and more functionality will be added as development continues. The company is employing three people and to date investment, between private funding and support from Enterprise Ireland under its competitive start fund, has been about €70,000.
Duke is a recent graduate of the DCU Ryan Academy Female High Fliers programme, which is a 13-week accelerator aimed at helping women develop their skill base and grow their businesses. She has also taken part in the New Frontiers entrepreneur development programme at DIT Hothouse.
Over the last eight months the company’s focus has been on testing and validating its idea and following successful feedback work is now under way on the development of a prototype. Duke says the beta product will be launched here before the end of this year with the full product launch due to happen at the end of 2018. In broad terms, the revenue model is likely to be SaaS while users will also be able to pay for additional features.
“Our finished product will be a mobile tool – cloud-based platform, mobile application – that will calculate nutritionally balanced feeding programmes and ration formulations for different animal groups,” Duke says.
“According to our market research, there is an urgent and evident need for high-tech, scientific innovation in the agri-sector globally, especially at the nutrition end of things.
“The main prerequisites for healthy, consistently productive livestock, are consistent, nutritionally balanced feeding practices that are matched to the animals’ requirements,” she adds.
“Current offerings in the animal feed market are very fragmented. There is no clear market leader or particularly innovative product or service in this space, especially when it comes to the specific balancing of feed throughout the complete production cycle.”
The idea for the feeding system was first tried out in Russia before being brought back to Ireland where it has been completely reworked to suit Irish agriculture practices to start with. "My mother was the brain behind the original algorithm but we have taken the basic idea and have built our own completely different cloud-based system in-house in Ireland," Duke says.