From tech lab to field - innovation helping to boost cattle numbers
Poor cattle conception rates cost the average UK dairy farmer £37,000 every year. Fertility in dairy cows has fallen in the UK by 20% over the past 40 years, and lower conception rates greatly reduce the productivity of the total herd.
However, the current semen analysis techniques are time consuming and often result in inaccurate readings. But all that is changing, thanks to Edinburgh company Dyneval.
Short for “Dynamic Evaluation”, the company’s name for its innovative method for measuring motion, Dyneval technology provides a simple automated instrument for semen analysis. The portable Dynescan provides reliable measurements of semen motility within a few minutes, and can be used in the field, producing instant results, and without requiring special training.
Dyneval is headed up by CEO Dr Tiffany Wood and CTO Dr Vincent Martinez. Explaining the company’s vision, Dr Wood says: “We want to become the gold standard in semen analysis, the product that farmers automatically turn to – but from R&D, through development, to actual prototype there’s been a lot of hard work and continuous testing to get the Dynescan ready for market.”
PhD physicist turned entrepreneur, Tiffany has been working closely with Vincent at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute to develop a way of extracting motion from video images to figure out what percentage of the semen population is moving and its average speed.
“IVF clinics currently do this by counting by eye, which is obviously very laborious, and they also can’t measure speed,” she says.
“There are technologies out there that can do the speed measurements, but not in clinics or in livestock. There are also ways of collecting semen in straws, but again you can’t see the quality – and we wanted technology that brought the two essential requirements together in one device.
“The Dynescan can test one straw and ensure quality; and the straws can be stored for months or years in liquid nitrogen – so you get a much more accurate result for much less money.”
But it’s one thing to have a market-changing piece of kit, and another to get it out in front of the key audiences, which is why Dyneval Chairman Richard Cooper recommended UMi Debt Finance Scotland.
Supported under the Scottish Growth Scheme, the UMi loan scheme is designed to help Scottish SMEs innovate, grow and diversify.
Dyneval was awarded £69,500 for working capital and liquidity costs, which came at a perfect time for the agritech business.
Tiffany says: “At the same time as we were granted the UMi Debt Finance loan, we also won a Scottish Edge competition. The two areas of support helped us outsource the design and development of the Dynescan, and apply rigorous testing with vets and AI techs.
“We’ve now just signed a major investment deal, and we also are about to release half a million pounds in Innovate UK grant money, so we’re in a much better position than when we went to UMi - and it’s due to the UMi loan that this has happened.”
UMi Debt Finance Scotland Fund Director, Tom Brock, says: “Farmers are constantly under pressure financially, and a simple device such as the Dynescan will save them money and time and improve the overall productivity of the herd by providing accurate and real time information.”
Tiffany said the Dynescan’s ethical and sustainability applications were also proving attractive to both investors and the marketplace.
“For example, farmers in Ethiopia – many of them smallholdings - are experiencing cattle conception rates as low as 10%, due to the cattle’s inability to tolerate climate change,” she says.
“We can help improve the genetic strength of their herd to withstand changes in weather conditions.
“All of which is so exciting for us – the fruition of many years’ planning and research. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we couldn’t have got where we are without the UMi loan. It has been enormously helpful in getting us to a place where we’ve now got our product to take to a world marketplace.”
Since receiving support from UMi, Dyneval has gone on to raise £1.29m of Series A equity investment in a recent funding round. This, combined with the finance provided by UMi, will support the company in bringing it's innovative product to market.
- Dyneval is an Edinburgh-based agritech on track to revolutionise the farming world with their innovative semen analysis technology.
- UMi Debt Finance Scotland manages a £12 million loan fund under the Scottish Growth Scheme, fully funded and owned by Scottish Government, to help accelerate the growth of Scottish businesses.