Why We Invested: Flox

Using AI to help farmers raise healthy chickens

We recently invested in FLOX, an early stage AI company that’s helping the $200+ billion poultry industry raise healthy chickens. 

We’ve written here before about our interest in the agtech industry. FLOX is a great representation of the promise we see for an intelligent systems augmentation/enhancement of such a massive industry.

Raising health (and profitable) chickens

Chickens that experience less disease and eat just the right amount of the correct nutrition are more profitable for farmers. Of course, it’s a win for the chickens, too. FLOX helps make this happen by arming farmers with rich, real-time data on their flock’s welfare and alerting them to potential signs of trouble.

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Advanced cameras monitor the chickens 24/7, giving farmers eyes on their flock any time they want, and the AI scans for any unusual behavior. For example, if chickens all of a sudden cluster together, it can mean something’s wrong in the flock. It can also be a health hazard because poultry droppings are acidic and can burn a chicken’s feet if they’re crammed together. A drop in activity level can also be a clue that a chicken is sick.

FLOX also monitors the environmental health of sheds. The system helps prevent the types of climate swings that can wreak havoc on both flock health. It monitors and adjusts the environment to prevent costly heat-stress events and alerts farmers to the presence of things like ammonia. The AI also can accurately estimate each chicken’s current weight and temperature. That way farmers can dial in their feeding program and spot signs of disease immediately, rather than a day or two later.

Founding team 

By the time we were even introduced, co-founders Imtiaz Shams and Nils Hügelmann had built an experienced team with the mix of AI and business acumen we tend to like.

Shams, who serves as CEO, had invested in early stage AI startups as a partner at Post Urban. He’d help grow companies like Hazy, which won a $1 million Microsoft AI Prize during his time at the firm. He also has extensive experience advising and working for tech companies, including in agtech.

Nils, who serves as CTO, is a repeat founder with extensive experience in robotics. As lead robotics engineer for London-based Moley Robotics, he helped build a robotic kitchen capable of cooking complex meals. He’d also helped build unmanned autonomous sailboats for a German company.

The pair had already brought on people like Andrew Maunder, who serves as the company’s Chairman. Maunder chairs the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), an animal welfare organization similar to PETA in the U.S. Maunder has generations-long connections to the industry: His grandfather is credited with introducing shed-based chicken farming to the U.K.

Approach

By the time we met, the FLOX team already had a scalable business model, using data in unique ways to help poultry farmers.  

The magic of FLOX is that the tech is in the software, rather than in some large robotic structure that might require a huge up-front investment. The entire system is 4k cameras that tie into the company’s AI in the background. It’s about as easy to install as a home security camera system and comes with a monthly subscription—which is similar to the RaaS model that we’ve written about before.

A farmer with dozens of chicken sheds each with thousands of chickens might only visit each shed location once a day—even if that—and that doesn’t give them much data. Plus, they’re relying on what they happen to notice at a moment in time.

FLOX gives farmers a proverbial gold mine of  data on the health and comfort of their chickens.

Early traction

We don’t always expect early stage companies to have great traction. But FLOX had already secured several impressive contracts with large farming operations in the U.K. and were demonstrating great results with those early customers. That work also helped validate their approach and inform future roadmaps.

Opportunity

Plus, they can apply their approach to even larger sectors in the future.

FLOX currently focuses on poultry farmers who raise chickens for meat, which is a $200+ billion industry. The egg market has pretty much the exact same needs and is almost as big (about $180 billion). 

The company is also well positioned to take advantage of an important trend: In a market where ethical treatment is moving to the forefront of the minds of regulators and consumers, the ability to show objective data certifying ethical treatment of animals can only get more valuable to farmers.

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