Hone just won Pitch X event run by Hunter iF at the Hunter Innovation Festival. How stiff was the competition?
In both the initial round that I attended and the final, it was incredible to see such great business concepts in such diverse areas, from world leading technology to simple but brilliant ideas for everyday consumers.It was a surprise to me to find out that all of this was happening here in Newcastle.
What do you think gave you the edge?
I'm sure it was a difficult decision for the panel given the diversity of businesses that were pitching, each with their own unique value proposition. They certainly weren't comparing apples to apples. The potential for Hone to help people across multiple large markets and the fact that we have taken the time to understand our customers is what I hope gave us the edge.
Hone was previously Rapid Phenotyping. Why the rebrand?
We got sick of spelling out our email addresses for people. To 'hone' is to refine something over time. That's how our technology works, and that's what our technology allows our customers to do. The more samples our devices scan, the more robust the test results become. The more data a farmer collects on soil and crop health, the more they can hone their management regimes. It works across the board.
With the capability to instantly know the quality grade of their grain, a farmer can intelligently trade their commodities to increase their margins.Dr Antony Martin
How did Hone begin?
The company first kicked off whilst myself and co-founders William Palmer and Jamie Flynn were operating a 3D imaging laboratory within the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) in Newcastle. It sounds like a stable job, but we had gained just enough funding to support the lab and a single wage which we shared over a difficult 6-12 month period. Inspired with ambition, and probably more importantly to supplement our income, we gained scientific consulting contracts for Hone that led to the technology and eventually the products that we are now promoting. It was only through the initial support of incredibly generous donors, HMRI and the University of Newcastle that we were able to kick start the lab and eventually develop the technology that underpins Hone.
What was your minimum viable product (MVP) and how has it evolved?
Our MVP was three guys, some off-the-shelf equipment and a computer. We were able to conduct lab tests far quicker and cheaper than the standard procedures and on that promise, we secured some consulting projects with scientific research labs. This involved the three of us manually processing thousands of samples to generate results, but in the end we were able to generate 60,000 lab results in weeks rather than years. It was also evident that people were willing to pay for the service. Unfortunately it was mind-numbing work processing those samples. We quickly realised that we needed to develop a hardware and software MVP that could be sold more broadly as a consumer solution. The software MVP was built quickly by our CTO Peter Tylee and was powerful but perhaps clunky to begin with. The hardware MVP was a 'sophisticated' spectrometer built from a balsa wood jewellery box and an outdoor porch light purchased from Bunnings.
And your core market?
Agronomists and farmers who are looking for a better solution for soil, crop and grain testing. This application extends to including large grain and feed handlers, compliance testing companies and plant breeders.
What is your offering?
HoneLab is a device coupled to a phone app, for conducting instant soil, crop and grain testing in-field.
Is there more product in the pipeline?
Yes, we have a strong R&D program with some exciting new ideas under development that will allow testing of new sample types in new markets.
How revolutionary is your product for farmers?
Our product puts knowledge back in the hands of the farmer. They can get real-time information on the health of their soil and crops to make timely decisions vital to crop performance and yield. With the capability to then instantly know the quality grade of their grain, a farmer can intelligently trade their commodities to increase their margins. Eventually we hope a farmer will be able to test his water for runoff and contaminants, test the oil in his tractor to improve performance and even test the pesticides and fertilisers he purchases to keep the suppliers honest.
What other markets can Hone help?
In the same way developers now build apps to list them on iOS or Android, labs can partner with us to build new testing applications across new markets. Some of the areas we hope to see developers working on are medical testing, water testing and environmental testing.
Are you exporting?
Yes. Surprisingly, our first MVP was deployed in the Philippines at a rice research institute. We are perfecting the technology here at home, but will soon be looking at taking our 'whole of farm' testing product into the US and Asia.