Founder Friday: Bethany Deshpande, SomaDetect

When you think of the industries that are a natural fit for startups, you probably think of fields like mobile apps, consumer products, SaaS.

But what about agriculture? It’s probably not the first industry you think of when it comes to startups, but maybe it’s that little-known secret that has helped companies like SomaDetect “moo-ve” quickly (sorry, I had to).

SomaDetect was the $1 million winner of the fourth 43North competition back in October, and they’re off to the races piloting their sensor system at dairy farms across the Northeast. They’re also partnering with Cornell University for additional research and data collection.

Learn more about SomaDetect and founder Bethany Deshpande in today’s Founder Friday!

How did your startup, well, start up?

SomaDetect is a startup that was not created because of one event or one person; it is the coming together of several people and ideas over several months. One big thing that stands out was when my dad, the original inventor of our sensor technology, first told me that he was working on something in dairy. Another was when Nic and I attended a conference in May 2016 and learned about big data and work being done around analytics and human health. Eventually we met Bharath, our third co-founder, and realized the power of deep-learning, artificial intelligence, and dairy data. Each of these moments was critical for getting our startup started.

What do you do? Your startup?

SomaDetect is an agricultural technology startup focused on dairy data and milk quality. Our mission is to provide farmers with the information they need to produce the best possible milk. We measure the most important compounds in raw milk in real-time, helping farmers to produce quality dairy products and be highly profitable.

When was the ‘aha’ moment for your startup when you realized this could actually work?

The first time I visited a farm and spoke with a farmer, I was asking some pretty basic questions: How do you make money? What do you love about farming – and what is less lovely? What does your day look like, from start to finish?

The answers to these helped me learn a ton about the industry. A few weeks later, I started getting calls from more farmers and industry folk willing to help – this is when I realized how wonderful it could be to work with farmers, and how much this could be a real business with real impact.

What has been the biggest accomplishment for your startup to-date?

There have been so many moments that stand out as big accomplishments. Building our first algorithms. The first time we installed a sensor on a farm. Writing a patent with my dad. Winning 43North.

Goals for the next year? Three years?

Whew, so many things! Getting more and more sensors on farms. Continuing to build a fantastically kick-ass team. Bringing awesome value to farmers.

Why Buffalo?

Buffalo has been fantastic for our company and for our personal lives – we have a lot of fun here! The biggest, most obvious thing: being in Buffalo places us within a major geographic center of dairy. From here, we have access to nearly 50% of North America’s dairy farms.

How do you do it? What drives you?

The farmers who wake up each day and make our food are constantly testing their farming processes and optimizing their work. Anything less would be unacceptable because the work they do – caring for cows and feeding our families – is critical. It must be done. There is little space for mistakes, because mistakes cost money and they cost lives.

Building SomaDetect connects me with this community of dairy farmers who are resilient, hard-working, demanding, and caring in their own way. When things get tough, or in moments when I feel lost and alone, I remember the farmers who have supported, encouraged, and helped us to learn and understand the work that they do. I do it for them, and I try as much as possible to do it with the same gritty attitude and MacGyver-esque sense of adventure.

Beyond this, building SomaDetect allows me to work with my dad in a way I would have never imagined and help him bring his inventions to life. It makes it possible for me to work each day on something that helps us live in a more healthy, caring, and sustainable world. I am surrounded by people who are willing to join me in making it happen, and are fantastically supportive during both the good and the bad. This is the absolute best work I could be doing at this moment, and this is what drives me.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Get help and go for it. Alone it may seem like a daunting task, but with co-founders a lot more becomes possible.