Innovate

Truth in Transit


Written By: Adam Kinsey

ONE STARTUP’S QUEST TO SAVE STRAWBERRIES, PROTECT VACCINES AND IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF PRODUCTS YOU RELY ON EVERY DAY

 

Have you ever bought a basket of beautiful strawberries at the grocery store and later opened the fridge with excitement — only to find them moldy or shriveled? You’re not alone.

A GLOBAL PROBLEM
The sad fact is that every year, over $35 billion worth of perishable products spoil in a warehouse or in the back of a truck before they even reach your fridge.

Supply chains and logistics may not steal trendy tech headlines the same way the latest social network or hitcha- ride apps do…but their impact on public safety and the global economy is tremendous. And, while it’s a real shame that up to 20 percent of all of the produce grown by our farmers is wasted in transit, quality assurance becomes even more critical when dealing with life-saving products like vaccines and biologics.

While temperature control is often the most important factor to ensure quality and safety during transportation, the astounding truth is that almost none of the perishable products we rely upon are monitored continuously as they travel through the supply chain, a journey that averages over 1,500 miles1 for fresh food. The intermittent data that is collected today is rarely analyzed or saved; that means grocery stores usually have no way of knowing whether their milk was stored properly at the dairy farm, or vice versa.

So, in 2013, I resigned from my engineering Ph.D. fellowship at the University of Florida and started a company to tackle this major global problem: maintaining quality in the cold chain.

After completing several pilot research studies in 2014 with UF and Florida market leaders (including produce growers Driscoll’s and Dole, LifeSouth Community Blood Centers and floral importer Gems Group), our team of Gator engineers set to work!

Our studies showed how a lack of monitoring and controls during packaging, processing and handling often results in large variances in the temperature and humidity conditions experienced from box to box and pallet to pallet. We found that these variations have a huge effect on the quality of delicate products during their journey from farm to fork. In Plant City, for instance, strawberries harvested on the same day at the same farm had drastically different shelf lives. One pallet picked in the morning lasted for ten days, while another picked in the afternoon lasted for less than six days — a nearly 40 percent difference! No wonder your berries spoil in the fridge!

A MODERN SOLUTION
But, by leveraging the latest Internet of things electronics and software, Verigo makes it possible for these companies to have an unprecedented level of transparency and visibility into what is happening to product quality in the supply chain. By attaching Verigo’s mobile and cloud-enabled sensors, shipping boxes and pallets become “smart” shipments that can monitor themselves, provide alerts when things go awry and eventually even provide shippers with actionable metrics like the remaining shelf life of each package. Personally, I love how I can now use a smartphone app to track my local pizza delivery as it is prepped, baked and delivered piping hot to my door. And, while that isn’t nearly as challenging of a “supply chain” as the processes our grocery stores have to work with, this simplicity and usability gives a glimpse of what is made possible by modern tech. Can you imagine if Publix could offer you a guarantee that your strawberries would last for five days in your fridge or that your bouquet of flowers would still be beautiful after a week on the kitchen table?

At Verigo, our team is on a mission to empower supply chain stakeholders with tools that make it possible to provide consumers with a level of quality and safety that just hasn’t been feasible before today. And, in addition to benefitting your family, systems like these make it possible to substantially reduce the 250 million tons of food wasted every year in North America, reducing the burden on our agricultural ecosystem and the environment.

LOCAL IMPACT
We have been blessed with incredible support from a real innovation ecosystem, not in Silicon Valley but right here in North Florida. After launching from the local “Starter Space” accelerator, the Verigo team has now moved into UF’s Innovation Hub incubator and raised over half a million dollars in funding from local “angel” investors and the state-funded Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research. With this backing and more than a year of research and development, Verigo products have now been approved for use in the Americas, Europe and Asia. Our iOS and Android mobile apps are available for free download, and our cloud platform is accessible from anywhere on the globe. Our first generation of sensors, manufactured right here in Gainesville, have already been shipped to customers on five continents!

AN INCREMENTAL APPROACH
It is important to recognize that problems of this magnitude can’t be solved overnight. Today’s supply chains are highly fragmented, with products often changing hands five or more times before reaching your local store. “Transparency” can also be a double-edged sword; in today’s highly competitive business environment, partners are often somewhat hesitant to admit to weaknesses in their processes or provide access to information that suspicious vendors or customers might use against them.

So, we are taking our system to market in a stepwise approach. Our first-generation platform has a look and feel that is very similar to older environmental sensors, called “data loggers,” that are used for today’s quality assurance. Our system will start by allowing them to do the same tasks, only more efficiently. But, with additional wireless, mobile, and cloud capabilities at the ready, users will have the option to collaborate more closely with their supply chain partners and begin to take a more holistic approach to product quality for the first time.

IT DOES TAKES A VILLAGE
We’re grateful for the many team members, advisers and investors who took the leap to partner with us when our quest to tackle global food waste was just a dream. We’re especially thankful for our cold chain partner, Evidencia, who placed the first order and made much of this possible — validating months of customer interviews and engineering.

The Verigo team is proud to tackle this global, billion dollar challenge with the help of the community right here in Gainesville, Florida.

ADAM KINSEY, founder of Verigo, received a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Florida. As an undergraduate, he assisted in a study investigating causes of spoilage in refrigerated supply chains. While working at Texas Instruments in 2012 he saw the inception of a new wireless communications platform with the potential to remedy many of the problems he had seen, and in late 2013 he resigned from his PhD fellowship at UF and started Verigo to tackle this major global problem: maintaining quality in the cold chain.

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