Growing population and the increased demand for food and water is widely seen as one of the biggest challenges that mankind will face in the future. While the solution is not immediately clear, there are signs of potential in a solution by Dutch startup Connecterra.
Based in Amsterdam, Connecterra is an agtech startup that aims to optimise the dairy farming industry by using artificial intelligence. Founded by Saad Ansari and Yasir Khokhar in 2014, the startup’s mission is to empower the dairy industry to increase its productivity while reducing its impact on the planet.
To achieve this mission, Connecterra created Ida, the intelligent dairy assistant. Ida uses predictive AI to deliver insights to users across the value chain. Users can then make better decisions that increase efficiency and productivity, which ultimately leads to increased sustainability.
People and hundreds of cows
The origin of Connecterra is rooted in the experience of co-founder and CEO Yasir Khokhar. Working with Microsoft in Dubai building the Office cloud business, Khokhar saw the potential of Internet of Things (IoT) due to his access to early days working on smart or connected cities projects.
After that project, Khokhar moved to the Netherlands and worked out of a small island. He explains how conversations with “50 people and several hundred cows during this stay” inevitably drove him to the dairy business.
“I could see there was so much potential for technologies like cloud computing, AI, and ML to help farmers,” says Khokhar.
Initially, Connecterra wanted to focus on translating animal and farm data into actionable insights for farmers and even experimented with sensors, algorithms, and UX approaches. However, the startup really found its mission after winning the ‘startup of the year’ at Web Summit 2015 in Dublin.
An Intelligent dairy assistant
In its mission to empower the dairy industry, Connecterra used predictive AI capabilities to create an intelligent dairy assistant called Ida. The job of this digital assistant, according to Khokhar, is to “make complex, often hard-to-capture or disparate sources of data accessible and actionable for decision makers across the dairy industry.”
Since it was first introduced, Connecterra has evolved as a startup and Ida has transformed into a data platform. “Ida has expanded beyond the role of a farmer’s assistant,” says Khokhar.
Today, this intelligent assistant powers insights across the dairy value chain. To turn the high-quality data sets into insights, Ida relies on artificial intelligence and machine learning. To deliver these insights, Connecterra has built an app that its co-founder terms as “user-friendly.”
The goal of insights provided by Ida is to help the dairy farmer become more efficient, productive, and ultimately, sustainable. “We’re now working with multiple user groups, from consultants who work with farmers to the milk processors who quantify emissions, to test out new solutions,” adds Khokhar.
An entrepreneur rarely stops
In the last seven years, Connecterra has raised more than €20M across three rounds and currently has 42 employees. Its founding group is also diverse, including two Microsoft friends of Pakistani origin, two Dutch guys with experience in industrial design and software design, and a Spanish data scientist working on his M.Sc.
Getting there has not been easy. Khokharsays “building a company is the hardest thing” he has ever done. He says the reason being that an entrepreneur rarely stops and there is no “Off” button.
Khokhar says, “When you are a founder, there is no moment when you are free of the responsibilities, decisions and outcomes that your startup needs.”
While this need to be constantly available and accessible can crush some, Khokhar also sees the rewards and the difference one can make in the world. He quickly adds that resilience is not only for the founders but also for the team and the company.
“We were fundraising in March of 2020 when the world went into lockdown. We were raising again when the Ukraine war began and markets crashed. But here we are, still growing, still strong,” he says.
Rise allows to re-evaluate business
Connecterra was one of the nine scaleups to join batch #8 of Techleap.nl’s Rise programme this year. When asked about the reason to join the Rise programme, Khokhar quickly says the programme structure “offers a safe space to re-evaluate your business.”
During the course of the Rise programme, Khokhar explains how the people and discussions challenge your current thinking and help reframe your problems. It is no mystery that peers not only bring fresh perspective to evaluate challenges but also act as an excellent sounding board.
However, Khokhar is looking at the Rise programme through a whole different lens. It is not very common for founders to re-evaluate business. “[The Rise] is also an opportunity to learn from and be reinvigorated by a community of entrepreneurs,” adds Khokhar.
The co-founder of Connecterra says the community has given the startup new ways to think about their approach to problem solving. With all growing companies facing similar challenges, Khokhar sees an opportunity to take something from others working towards solutions.
“The outside perspective from the Rise mentors always helps you take a step back from the day-to-day to evaluate the bigger picture,” he adds.
A mission-driven company
Connecterra is a mission-driven company and the founders see its success not only in the revenue but also through its sustainability ambitions. It aims to help dairy farmers become sustainable by creating a sustainable agriculture value chain where data, machine learning, and humans work together.
“The complexity and enormity of the decisions required to address climate change, food security and human well-being is a solvable problem using the tools we have today. And we want to bring this to the world,” confirms Khokhar.
In this quest to build a sustainable agriculture value chain, Connecterra is leaving nothing to chance. Every small little thing matters and every hire is important. “The impact of one wrong hire has the potential to impact the entire company, morale and performance,” says Khokhar.
At Connecterra, their hiring principle is rather simple. They look for fit, grit, and hunger needed for this initial stage of a mission-driven company. The final measure of success, for Khokhar and everyone at Connecterra, comes from being able to say, “Yes, that was my life’s best work and we have made a positive difference to the world.”