When David Alston was asked recently what startups in his native Fredericton had caught his attention, one of the first he mentioned was a young company called SomaDetect. The New Brunswick government’s chief entrepreneur-in-residence said he’d even visited a dairy farm with SomaDetect’s founders to witness their product at work.
SomaDetect helps dairy farmers check the health of their herd quickly, accurately and precisely while testing the quality of their milk. The company has been launched by CEO Bethany Deshpande and COO Nicholas Clermont, who have been in touch with farmers across New Brunswick, a few of whom have signed up for the pilot project in 2017.
“SomaDetect is aiming to be New Brunswick’s next big agro-tech success story,” Deshpande said in an interview. “We are excited about what the future brings, and about the interest we have from dairy farmers here.”
The story of SomaDetect began when Bethany’s father Satish Deshpande, an Ontario government worker and part-time inventor, learned of a problem common in dairy farming. One of the most pervasive diseases in the industry is mastitis, which can diminish the quality of milk and even prove lethal to the cow if not detected in time.
Farmers now screen for the disease by sampling their total intake of milk, sending the sample to a lab, and waiting for about a week for the results. The tests can determine whether mastitis is present in the herd, though it cannot say which specific animal is afflicted.
Deshpande’s patented technology sends a laser beam through the milk as each cow is milked, instantly recording the fat content and somatic cell count, both of which indicate the presence of mastitis and the quality of the milk. The farmer has the data instantly for each cow twice a day.
By catching the disease early enough, SomaDetect can prevent the disease from moving through the herd, save the lives of some cows, and reduce the amount of antibiotics used by dairy farmers. The product also captures each farm’s data in the cloud, which can produce reports in real time for the farmer.
After completing her PhD in microbiology in June, Bethany Deshpande moved to Fredericton, where her husband had taken a job. She was impressed with the local entrepreneurial community and decided to build a business based on her father’s product.
She teamed up with Clermont, an engineer, designer and business strategist and launched the business.
Their goal is to have five farms in the pilot project early next year, and eventually be used by one-quarter of the dairy farms in New Brunswick. There are 55,000 dairy farms in Canada and the U.S., so their market is substantial.
Deshpande and Clermont are also taking their company through Breakthru, New Brunswick’s biennial competition for startups. They have also been working with the Pond-Deshpande Centre (whose co-founder Gururaj Deshpande is no relation) at the University of New Brunswick and accessed funding through the PDC’s B4Change program.
Now the company is rolling the product out in farms with the goal of improving agricultural production. Said Bethany Deshpande: “One of our aims for SomaDetect is to help New Brunswick produce the highest quality milk in the country.”