Heyrex

Remote health monitoring for animals.

It’s a tough job being a veterinarian. You can’t really communicate directly with your patients, and their owners are notoriously unreliable in the way they report their pet’s behaviour. Wouldn’t it be great if you could remotely collect data on your patients which showed how much time they spent running around, where they’ve been, when they’ve been resting, scratching, whether they’re eating too much or to little?

Well now you can, with Heyrex, the Wellington developed “Fitbit for pets” that’s exploding onto the world stage.

The Heyrex story begins with big-hearted scientist David Gibson who loved animals, and saw huge inefficiencies with the way animal health treatments were delivered. He believed that using technology it should be possible to detect changes in behaviour which were indicative of health problems a long time before symptoms appeared. With early behavioural detection, animals could avoid unnecessary pain and discomfort, and owners could avoid expensive remedial treatments after the problems had become acute.

By 2011 Gibson had developed a working prototype of Heyrex, based on dongle technology with a monitor station that looked like it came straight out of a 1950’s sci-fi film. But later that year, Gibson passed away from a heart attack.

Nathan Lawrence
Nathan Lawrence

Current CEO Nathan Lawrence was an early investor at that time, and was helping Gibson out with commercialisation strategy. The Board asked Lawrence to become CEO, and take the company forward. The new team took the concept, stripped it right back, rebuilt it based on 2.4Gb wireless technology with the back-end in the cloud, and started shopping the solution in the US and UK. The Company also did a customer segment pivot – aiming the new HeyrexVet monitoring service at vets rather than pet owners, as vets have existing relationships with pet owners, and the data and analytics are much more valuable to them.

Vets prescribe HeyrexVet monitoring as part of their treatment programmes, as it saves time and enables measuring effectiveness and adjusting treatments. There are several treatment programme modules which can be switched on in the cloud for specific treatment of animals. One such module is cage rest, which is critical to monitor for postoperative recovery. The vet places the wearable on the animal, and data starts flowing in showing how much time the animal is spending in the cage, in easy exercise, or running around. The vet gets an alert if the animal exceeds activity parameters.

Another module is weight management – a surprising 52% of dogs in the US are obese. When a vet puts an animal on a weight management program, the vet uses HeyrexVet to set a diet and exercise regime, using its database of over 4,000 pet foods and its ability to measure the amount of energy the animal is expending. HeyrexVet forecasts the rate at which the animal will gain or lose weight and measures against actual weigh-in data. If the animal isn’t getting enough exercise, Heyrex sends a message to the owner telling them it’s time to go out and exercise.

There are also modules to measure sleep disturbance, scratching relating to allergic reactions or dermatitis. A new heartworm recovery module will save lots of lives – if the nine month heartworm recovery programme is not strictly adhered to, the animal can die.

Research universities love this product – Heyrex currently supports projects in several US states, as well as Massey University closer to home. Most of these universities are using Heyrex to measure the efficacy of new treatment programmes. The University of New South Wales has used Heyrex to monitor tigers in zoos.

Heyrex currently have thousands of units out in the field, mainly in the US. For research clients, they charge $149.95 for the hardware, plus a monthly monitoring fee. For vets, they’re moving to a fixed monthly price based on a set number of units and services, which the vets can on-charge as they like. That’s Fitbit-for-pets-as-a-service. Over the last 12 months, their revenue growth has averaged 50% month-on-month.

The system is designed to provide a healthy return on investment for vets, with additional revenue streams available through product ordering. This helps vets defend their more traditional revenue sources that have been eroded by online pharmacies and bulk stores.

The Veterinary Services industry is significant. In the US alone, there are roughly 75m dogs and a similar number of cats, resulting in annual industry revenues of over USD 58B and growth at 6% per annum.

Mark Solly
Mark Solly
Kim Goldsworthy
Kim Goldsworthy

Currently, the team is small and tight. Along with Nathan, CTO Mark Solly manages the technology side of things while Sales Manager Kim Goldsworthy is leading the charge into North America. They also have four devs, a CFO and an accounts and admin person based in Kārori, but they’re looking to go hard on the USA this year.

They’ve just completed a raise of NZD 816K on Snowball Effect a few months ago, but they’re looking to score another 3m or so with significant input from strategics to fuel international expansion. It’s a hot industry – another player in the animal wearables space with revenues of less than 5m was recently acquired for 117m. The acquirer saw strategic value in the data.

Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt is famous for saying “We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.” There’s a large untapped market of pets out there who can’t type search queries or use phones. But the pets themselves represent a significant revenue opportunity, and can reveal quite a lot about their owners as well. I imagine when Heyrex gets acquired, it will be all about the data.

Heyrex are looking for additional investment as well as sales staff and developers who are passionate about this industry. Do make contact with them if you’re interested, and help another great New Zealand startup to totally own its category.

BioLumic

Using the near-magical properties of UV light to increase crop production.

Arthur C. Clarke’s third law states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

biolumic2BioLumic increases crop yields by applying ultraviolet (UV) light to seeds, seedlings, and plants in very specific “recipes” to control their growth patterns. Stressing plants by shining UV light in the right quantity, at the right time in their development provokes a response that makes the plants hardier – bigger stems, bigger leaves, and better overall resilience.

When I first heard about BioLumic a couple of years ago, I thought, yeah, nah, that’s crackpot pseudo-science. But this technology is based on hard scientific research, and it appears to work. It looks likely to revolutionise commercial agriculture by increasing crop yields without genetic modification or chemicals – just add light.

Jason Wargent
Jason Wargent
Warren Bebb
Warren Bebb

BioLumic’s founder and Chief Science Officer is Massey University’s Dr Jason Wargent, a world-renowned expert on plant photomorphogenesis – the effects of light on plant growth and development. He’s published a Ph.D thesis on the topic and numerous papers, and is now working with CEO Warren Bebb and a team of 7 to commercialise his research. They have filed three patents which are currently going through local and international examination.

And it’s generating some stunning results. BioLumic are currently running trials with lettuce growers in Salinas, California – the USA’s major lettuce growing area. For head lettuce, they’re getting a 10% increase in the number of heads of lettuce per unit land area, resulting in a 25% EBIT uplift for the grower. For processed lettuce, they can achieve a 26% increase in tonnes per hectare – all without genetic modification or additional chemicals. Trials with corn are underway in NZ, with the first harvest expected in April.

The numbers tell a big story too. In 2016, they’ll be treating 35 million seedlings. The lettuce market alone in the USA is a $2b market, and fresh cut vegetables is an $82b market globally. If you add in seeds and cereals, that takes it up to $650b. And this market is growing – it’s estimated that the world will need to grow 50% more food by 2050, despite a best-case scenario of bringing an additional 10% of arable land online by then. Something big is going to be needed to fill that gap, and BioLumic could be the answer.

They have a recurring revenue model based on installing equipment onsite, and then charge a per-plant treatment fee. They plan to set up operations and distribution in each territory that they’ll be operating in. They’re currently scoring key customers in the USA, and will branch out from there.

To date, BioLumic have run a seed round, a top-up round, an two angel rounds with participation from Manawatu Investment Group (MIG), NZVIF, ICE Angels, Enterprise Angels, K1W1, Massey Ventures, Sparkbox, and others. They have runway through mid-2017, and the next round is likely to be a mix of VC plus strategic investment.

BioLumic is a great example of breakthrough Kiwi agricultural ingenuity contributing to the solution of a serious world problem, and potentially creating massive value along the way.