Friday 28 November 2014

Smurfit-backed start-up Moocall will help farmers sleep soundly

Roisin Burke

Published 27/04/2014 | 02:30

Moocall is a patented calving alert sensor that sends a text message to a farmer's mobile phone to alert him that a calf is close to being born
Moocall is a patented calving alert sensor that sends a text message to a farmer's mobile phone to alert him that a calf is close to being born
Michael Smurfit

Irish business legend Michael Smurfit is about to agree investment in an innovative technology start-up with the potential to change farm life.

The deal due to be signed this week by Smurfit Senior and the Smurfit family trust agrees to put in a substantial part of a €750,000 investment round into a company called Moocall, bringing total funding to around €1.25m to date.

Moocall is a patented calving alert sensor that sends a text message to a farmer's mobile phone to alert him that a calf is close to being born.

It's the brainchild of Offaly farmer Niall Austin and has been in development for the last two years. The ambition is to tap into a 300 million head of cattle market across the US, Canada and South America, with plans to get to launch in those markets quickly to build a sizeable export business. The serious international potential was the reason the company sought out Smurfit, for his international market expertise.

Seasoned investor Michael Stanley, who has backed Irish start-ups including healthcare technology firm OneView and energy tech start-up Endeco, is also a backer, along with one other significant Irish business figure.

"We like it because it marries one of Ireland's oldest industries with very new technology," Mr Stanley said.

The product is almost at final development stage and is being trialled by 20 farmers in Tipperary, with successful rates of calf-birth detection.

Moocall will launch this summer with an immediate export focus.

"The finished product is out there testing and causing quite a stir," said Mr Stanley. "We have been inundated with calls from farmers saying 'my mate is trialling this, can I have one too?' Farmers are thanking us for the hours of sleep they're getting, they don't have to get up in the night to check sheds or CCTV cameras."

Once launched, Moocall plans to build a substantial team of highly-skilled staff and maintain an Irish headquarters. It hopes to raise further funding later in the year.

The current round would see the Smurfit-led group take a circa 33 per cent stake in the business, with founder Austin retaining a one-third stake and a further third held by first round backers.

The Monaco based businessman had hinted at a farming tech startup related investment but the nature of it had remained a mystery until now.

An early technology pioneer, while chairman of Telecom Eireann Smurfit pushed for the installation of the best fibre-optic technology available instead of more basic infrastructure, a move that put Ireland ahead of Britain creating the conditions that lured in software multinationals like Microsoft and Intel.

Sunday Indo Business

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