Growing up on a family-run seed farm in rural Saskatchewan, VeriGrain Sampling Inc. CEO, Ken Jackson, realized early on that he was more suited to designing and building things than he was to the rigors of a career in farming. Accordingly, he studied mechanical engineering technology at Kelsey Institute (which became Saskatchewan Polytechnic), and spent the next 20 years running manufacturing companies. The businesses tended to operate on the periphery of the agricultural sector, and it wasn’t until 2004 that Ken made his way back to his farming roots with a foray into AgTech that eventually led to his cofounding VeriGrain.
“My passion—and really what I do best—is identify opportunities and solve the challenges that accompany them,” he explains. “And where I’ve seen real potential over the past few years is in the emergence of smart phones, applications, Bluetooth connectivity, and cloud-based storage. Their portability has ushered in a paradigm shift, particularly in agriculture, where mobility is critical. What’s funny is that it’s been four decades since I last wrote code, yet here I am running an app development company. I can’t do the back-end stuff, but I can rely on 40 years of solving client problems to ensure we provide outstanding quality and a seamlessly integrated user experience.”
“Our focus is bringing consistency to grain sampling through automation, and that’s the challenge we’ve solved. For the first time, a tool exists that allows farmers to provide live, verifiable data regarding the quality of the stored grain they’re selling. And it’s the explosion of smart technologies that has allowed us to implement real-time data collection and communication, adding significant value all along the supply chain. What we’ve created is truly ground-breaking. And we have the industry-wide recognition to back up our claim, including the Davidson Prize for innovation, which is awarded annually by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. Receiving that was a little like being the small Canadian independent movie filmed on a smartphone that took on the big Hollywood productions and walked away with the Oscar for best picture.”
Being recognized trail blazers is exciting, but it’s not without significant challenges. These include lacking any reference points for the business model, which makes it difficult to attract investors. Then there’s the quandary of marketing a unique concept to a customer base inundated with a broad range of decisions. But despite the obstacles, VeriGrain has thrived. CAAIN funding allowed Ken to build the team he needed to refine and scale up his technology. Without the support, the company would not have been able to develop the product to the advanced state it is with the capability of delivering real-time on-farm automated moisture and temperature readings of stored grain. That kind of data is an industry first, and will allow farmers to get top dollar for their grain because buyers can have confidence in the consistency and quality of the product they’re purchasing. Momentum is building, and partnerships are in the offing that will expose the sampling technology to 80,000 North American farmers. If VeriGrain attracts only 10 per cent of those as clients at an average annual fee of about $4k to $5k per user, the company will become a remarkable success story three years into its existence, validating both the technology itself and CAAIN’s decision to support its development.
When asked about the future he sees for his technology, Ken pauses before answering. “I guess first it’s about building market share in North America, then growing internationally. After that, I think there’s the potential to expand from specialty grains like barley, pulse crops, and seed grains to include commodities like wheat and canola. Commodity grains make up 80 percent of the industry, and while there isn’t the same value spread you see with the specialty crops, the potential return on investment is still substantial. So, I think the potential exists for that market, as well. Ultimately, though, what drives us is knowing our work is important and that we are helping to feed a hungry world. I’m very proud of that.”
Total Project Value
Co-Founder and CEO