Having completed its rebranding exercise, Sydney-based Mabel Systems has developed the prototype of its inventory tracking system for food industries.
Formerly called Tracker Inventory Systems, the company helps companies in such segments as seafood, aquaculture and agriculture keep track of their inventory as it proceeds to market. The camera-based system needs no manual input from workers on the plant floor.
As the company developed in the past two years, the three-member team wanted to adopt a name that celebrated innovation and also wasn’t too married to one product line. They finally settled on Mabel in celebration of Mabel Bell, wife and partner of the great inventor Alexander Graham Bell.
“They lived in Cape Breton a good part of the time and I liked the Cape Breton connection,” said CEO Gavin Andrews in an interview. He added that the late 1800s and early 1900s, when Bell was working in Cape Breton, “was an innovative time in Atlantic Canada and the world and I feel like we're going into another period like that now.”
Mabel Systems has an interesting history of its own. In late 2018, Andrews won Innovacorp’s Intersect Challenge, which asked entrepreneurs to find a solution for the problem of an established business. In this case, a commercial laundry service needed help tracking the inventory of the sheets it cleaned for hotels.
The company developed that project but soon realized growth would be difficult as there were rarely more than two commercial laundry outfits in any city. Andrews' own background was in the food industry so it seemed natural for the team to gravitate toward food producers.
Last winter, Andrews, CTO Matthew Pyne and software developer Justin Hiltz began to spend time talking to seafood producers and learning their problems. They realized that radio-frequency identification systems, which are now the industry standard for tracking seafood inventory, have some limitations because they require plant workers to manually input all the details – a cumbersome process.
They devised a camera-based system that would film bins as they were on or near the weighing scales, and automatically track each bin as it moved through the plant. After considering off-the-shelf equipment, they decided they needed hardware that could bear up in the often-harsh environment of a seafood plant, where exposure to salt water and other substances is a factor.
The Mabel team worked with the Nova Scotia Power Makerspace in Sydney’s Navigate Startup House to develop its tracking device and it is now doing a production run of the hardware. The company is going through the Propel IT accelerator, where Andrews is working on finding beta-testers for two- to three-month trials. He hopes to convert the beta-testers into customers following the trials.
Mabel so far has been funding itself mainly from non-dilutive sources, including wins in the Sprint competition and the Ocean Startup Challenge. It won’t be long until the company aims to raise an equity round.
Said Andrews: “We will be looking for investment in 2021, but the timing will very much depend on the feedback we receive from our customers in the next few months.”