Calving Technologies Is Saving Lives One Collar at a Time
At 23 years old, most college students are getting to know themselves all over again through classwork, social events and all around fun.
Libby Martin, a second-year student the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is certainly living her best college life. She grabs coffee at the Grind every day, heads to the gym to lift and spends about six to seven hours or more in class each day. But Libby has also added “entrepreneur” to her already bursting day planner.
You see, Libby is the founder of Calving Technologies—and she just won the University of Missouri System's first Entrepreneur Quest Student Accelerator competition and with it, over $40,000 to continue her work on modernizing and revolutionizing how birthing cows are tracked and cared for.
And yes, Libby Martin is 23 years old.
Calving Technologies is solving a major problem for cattle ranchers and livestock producers. When cows are calving, they usually end up separating from the herd. If something goes wrong in the birthing process, farmers often can’t find the cows in time and end up losing new calves and cows. The mortality rate for calves for varied reasons not including illness is around ten percent. That may seem small, but considering herds can be up to 200 cows this can be a significant loss of life.
Growing up in California, Missouri, Libby had seen the problem since childhood and knew that it needed to be addressed. And so she and her startup Calving Technologies created a collar that tracks the biometrics of the cows to monitor their physiological changes. These collars report information that farmers would typically miss out on. To take it a step further, the collars also help farmers locate birthing cows by utilizing an internet-ready mesh network whose metrics can be accessed in the cloud.
Cool? Impressive? Inspirational? Yes, on all counts. We caught up with Mizzou student and tech founder Libby to chat about her entrepreneurial journey just after she wrapped finals for her first year of veterinary school.
MOSourceLink: A true entrepreneur is definitely someone who is able to see the problem and determine a fix. When you first realized that this was a problem you could solve, who did you talk to first?
Libby Martin: My grandpa. Actually, he's the one who owns our farm. I started noticing the problem and that no one was really doing anything about it. They were just kind of accepting it as something that happens and that you have to deal with.
And so I just assumed that someone out there was working on it. I started calling a lot of local vet clinics and farm stores and saying, “Hey, this is happening here on my farm. Is there anything you can provide me with in terms of products or even advice?” And it was a constant, “No.”
I ended up talking to my professor and mentor Dr. Jim Spain. He was really great about helping me and encouraging me to formulate the idea and then he connected me with the entrepreneurship division here at Mizzou.
MOSourceLink: That’s amazing. You really responded to a genuine need in your own community. When thinking about being an entrepreneur for the first time, it can be terrifying. Did you have any hesitations? Or were you immediately all about being an entrepreneur?
LM: Oh definitely not! If you would have told me a few years ago, “Hey you're gonna be doing entrepreneurial things, you're gonna be your spearheading your own business!” I would have said, “You are crazy. I don't think I’d do that.” I definitely did not know I was an entrepreneur. It kind of just blossomed as I pursued this idea that I was so passionate about and willing to work hard on.
MOSourceLink: After you spoke with the entrepreneurial division at Mizzou, are there any other resources within the state or within the University of Missouri system that you felt were really pertinent to your success?
LM: Everyone at the Missouri Innovation Center was very helpful. They connected me to people who eventually turned into partners. So it was just this constant progression of networking.
The entrepreneurship alliance at Mizzou —huge. REDI Hub downtown is also an amazing resource, as well as the Missouri Women’s Business Center. So I used all of those things in conjunction with EQ. And really that's what has propelled me to actually gain some traction with what I've been trying to do for several years now.
Columbia, Missouri, is an awesome place to foster growth for young and new startups.
MOSourceLink: You’re a rural entrepreneur helping rural entrepreneurs, namely farmers. So let’s jump into your solution: One of the issues we’ve heard a lot about in rural areas is the lack of broadband internet connection. You’ve tackled that with your collars, right?
LM: Yes! Basically what happens is the collars enact a mesh network and provides that cellular network connection within the collars themselves. The cows are together about 95 percent of the time and then there is that small period when they need to go off and calve. And these collars work with each other and serve as a hub that can pull information with that connection up to the cloud.
I had no idea it was this serious until I started running into the problem. This is a big issue. These are usually low-connectivity areas and it's different state to state, country to country.
MOSourceLink: That tackles yet another problem inside of a problem. What are some other issues that you noticed that rural entrepreneurs may face?
LM: If I hadn't been in college where someone held my hand and showed me these resources, I don't know if I would have progressed. That sounds awful because at the time I didn't know the potential of it, but it can be really hard if you don't know what's out there or who can connect you with the right people .
MOSourceLink: What are some of the challenges you have been facing with Calving Tech?
LM: I think for me it’s two really big ones. And the first one is being a full-time veterinary medical student .
It's a balancing act every single day. Both Calving Tech and vet school. I can't take off a day for either one of them and that's something I've learned over the past eight months. We have a really small team. Right now it’s just me, my technical advisor Scott Christiansen, and then I worked in conjunction with Scollar [the designers of the first modular smart collar who have just moved their HQ from Silicon Valley to Missouri].
And then the second one is just getting people to take me seriously, especially when it comes to working with big firms. For example, I traveled all over the state, I had tons of meetings and I met with three different very large engineering firms that wouldn't take me seriously. And I don't know if that's because of my age or gender, I’m not sure. It got really frustrating and felt like I was wasting a lot of time.
So those are the two things that I've kind of battled with on and off for the past eight months, but I know there is always going to be learning curve.
MOSourceLink: So with that, what’s next for Calving as you continue to work through those challenges? What do you need?
LM: Expanding my team. It’s difficult to find independent contractors who work in terms of engineering and have an interest in agriculture. Not a lot of consultants do that. These days it’s all about app development, so finding companies that love working with agricultural startups and have a great understanding of the industry would be super helpful because I am looking for a data analytics engineer right now.
And then lastly, this is probably an obvious one, I'm always looking for opportunities for investment. Whether that's a pitching competition or someone who would like to invest in the company as an individual.
MOSourceLink: Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to add?
LM: Stick your neck out and ask for help. Everyone I’ve asked has been so helpful. The people who have surrounded me here and who have offered to help me or connect me with somebody else — that's honestly made a world of difference.
Entrepreneurship takes so much grit. And that’s what I like about it. You build your character in ways you never thought you would.
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