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An App Store for Agriculture - An interview with Startup Sixty-5

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by Startacus Admin

An App Store for Agriculture - An interview with Startup Sixty-5

A few weeks ago we interviewed the guys behind Northern Ireland Start-up Receet, acustomer engagement product which gathers detailed retail insights into customer behaviour at independent businesses, and at the same time rewards said customers for sharing that insight.

This week along comes another innovative Northern Ireland business Progressive Agriculture Solutions Ltd who are continuing the tradition of Irish Apps for Agricultureagricultural innovation with their start-up Sixty-5, an ‘App store for Agriculture’ and are currently participating in Invest Northern Ireland’s Propel programme, which develops high growth potential, export focussed start-ups. Intrigued by what exactly that means, we thought we would take a little time out to ask John Arrell, Founder of Sixty-5 all about the need for such advanced technology within such a traditional business sector.

John, we're admittedly not experts in farming, but an App Store for Agriculture sounds very intriguing - explain!

The global driver behind this is that we need to produce an estimated 65% more food per year by 2050 than we do today in order to sustain the estimated 9 billion people that will inhabit the planet. Sixty-5 is all about optimising the use of land based agricultural machinery which in turn optimises the use of resources vital to the agricultural process including fuel, chemical, and fertiliser, while giving the farmers vital data to increase productivity by doing the right thing, in the right place and the right way, at the right time.

Our vision is to put technology into these farmers’ hands through our dedicated App store. This store will be home to an evolving suite of apps that will guide, control and record all aspects of the land based process. The apps themselves have no value, however we combine these with our dedicated interface to connect and utilise peripheral devices such as GPS receivers, crop sensors and machines. The apps are the software that allows these devices to operate to their optimum for increased productivity.

We envisage a farmer purchasing a new piece of hardware, connecting it up to our Sixty-5 interface and going to the App store to purchase and download the app (software) to optimise the hardware.

Added to this proposition, we will also offer a cloud based solution - recording operations as they happen and collecting vital data and turning it into decision enablers for more productive use of the land.

What is your own background and how important was your own experience and knowledge of the farming industry in developing the concept behind Sixty-5?

I have been involved within the agricultural machinery industry for the past two decades, I have worked in customer facing roles with Tier 1 companies Sixty-5 John Arrellsuch as Claas and AGCO and 12 years of this within John Deere dealerships. I started off in a technical role, progressing to sales and then to sales management. I have also worked for one of NI's leading machinery manufacturers developing sales in existing markets of the UK and Ireland and establishing new sales channels abroad. I formed my own company in Ireland in January 2012, namely Progressive Agriculture Solutions, concentrating on providing solutions to optimise the efficiency of agricultural machinery. I had been involved with GPS products since their introduction into agriculture in the late 90’s. I understood the benefits that this type of technology could bring. It was the combination of understanding the technology along with understanding the challenges within the market that has brought about the opportunity.

How and why did you come up with the brand name - Sixty-5?

I attended Invest NI’s design development programme where we were taken through a series of really useful workshops mainly to make us think differently in terms of design. I was then matched up with Andy Rice Creative, a design consultancy firm in Holywood. The brief was to create a brand name that would reflect the product and market it was targeting but to be a little different and aspirational and to design the brand identity. We worked really well together and communicated constantly over this, I came up with the name one weekend, only after a process of Andy listening to me and coming up with suggestions which got me thinking in a different way, one of his suggestions made me think about our vision and what our purpose is. It is estimated that we need to increase production by 65% by 2050 to feed the planet, we started then playing about with 65 and came up with Sixty-5. The logo, style and tag line were then designed around this.

I am really proud of my branding - I believe it communicates the purpose of the company to the outside world, also perhaps more importantly it sets the ethos within the company and gives it its own personality and purpose. Going forward, everything we do, how we conduct ourselves, our R&D, our competitive edge and our new products all have the purpose of meeting possibly the greatest challenge our planet has faced - namely increasing our food production by 65%.

What stage are you at now, and what type of support have you had in developing the business so far?

Invest Northern Ireland has been absolutely brilliant in supporting this project. We are presently 50% of the way through an R&D grant to develop the product. We have the interface designed and are now testing it. Development of the software (Apps) is still ongoing and we have attracted the attentionApps for Agriculture of a few Global OEM’s who we are now working with to develop software bespoke to their hardware. By far the biggest development so far is my own personal development. Through Invest NI’s propel programme, I have been taken through the steps and given the support to build a global business. I was comfortable being my own boss and running my own company in Ireland, the biggest question for me when developing the Sixty-5 product range was how do I build and scale a global company?

Propel has introduced me to investment strategies and has paired me up with a mentor who has been there and done that. I now have a better understanding of the investment process which is completely necessary when building something as big as this and also the structures necessary such as putting a board together and learning how to pitch for investment. This, I believe, has left me in a great position to go out there and seek the investment needed to allow Sixty-5 to make a global difference to us all.

What advice would you give to someone with a cracking idea, but with limited to no experience in starting a business?

If you have what you think is a cracking idea, firstly go out and talk to the market. When I started my business in January 2012, I spent two full weeks travelling around Ireland talking to farmers, dealers and finding out what the market needed. I then went and sourced products and sold them. Sixty-5 was born out of a need that is not being properly satisfied with current market offerings - everything starts with the market. Once you find that market, go after it, put everything into it. Along with the starting point of your vision, it is my opinion that the most important part to building a business is passion, sheer drive and determination!

If you can bring that to the table, enterprise agencies such as Invest NI will recognise this and help you to develop the skills and knowledge needed to make your vision a reality. See every setback as a learning experience, embrace failure because without failure you cannot have success. I also believe when starting and growing a business you should make sure and have fun doing it and inspire your team to have fun building it. People want to be involved with upbeat positivity - you will attract better staff, and find it easier to engage customers. Enthusiasm is infectious. Enjoy your journey and ask for help when you need it.

Any sneak peeks you can share with us, with regards to your plans for the next 6-12 months?

We can't really give you a sneak preview of the solutions we will be coming out with, but this is what I believe will be the future headline:

NI Agricultural Software Business Sixty-5 is continuing changing the face of Global Agriculture Production and continuing Northern Ireland's rich heritage of agricultural innovation by- following in the footsteps of people like Harry Ferguson, who changed how tractors operated in 1926.

Cheers John and we wish you all the very best for a hopefully very successful rest of 2014!

If you like Northern Irish Startup news - you might want to browse through our recent features on Belfast as a Startup City

And one more thing - if you have a great idea, project or startup don't forget to add it to the Startacus Collaboration Space where you can receive support from other self starters and investors and showcase your big idea! 

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Published on: 3rd August 2014

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