At 30 years old Shannon Speight is just a spring chicken by the agricultural industry’s standards but when it comes to the tech world, she jokes she might already be a little over the hill. Fortunately, she and co-founder Emma Black, 32, are more than holding their own with the 20-somethings after officially launching Black Box Co in March 2020.
The web-based app analyses animal performance metrics across the supply chain and has a robust cloud-based database backing it up. The app uses predictive algorithms, machine learning and an ever growing database of stock records to crunch the data and display the results on an interactive dashboard. Black Box Co is completely data agnostic. It takes data from crush side units, but users can also upload data from decades-old Excel spreadsheets.
In a short amount of time, Black Box Co has gone from zero to more than 800,000 animals, raised $1.5 million in an oversubscribed capital raise, employs a remote-based team of 10 throughout Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria and is working with producers right across the country.
In the early days the sheer scale of poorly-managed data and the enormity of the solution meant both Shannon and Emma poured a huge amount of time, money and skill investment into the initiative, but it’s already paying off for the beef industry.
“Everytime we chat to a producer they give us a new insight,” Shannon says.
“One producer said the other day that consistently between the two of their breeding places they’re seeing a 15kg weight gain of one over the other which on every single animal, year on year, at the prices they’re at at the moment is a $50 value per animal, which at their scale is in the millions.”
Before starting Black Box Co with Emma, Shannon was a vet with a background in cattle breeding, genetics and fertility. She didn’t grow up on a property; rather it was a stint on a Northern Territory cattle station during her veterinary studies that cemented a love for the industry.
After begrudgingly returning to Sydney to complete her degree, it wasn’t long before she was back up north, this time to the Atherton Tablelands, QLD. While working in a private practice as a large animal vet, she began working on a genomics project where it became clear a lot of data was being collected but not utilised on-farm.
At the same time, she was crowned the winner of the Zanda McDonald Award and connections opened up across the industry. One of those led her to co-founder Emma, who has a meat science and nutrition background. Together the pair realised they could cover the supply chain.
Fast forward to today and Shannon and Emma have their sights set on making Black Box Co a solid solution for the beef industry, not just in Australia, but globally. Shannon says there’s not a week that goes by that they don’t field enquiries from America to Uruguay asking when it’ll be available. It’s not just the beef industry that’s taking notice either. The lamb, pork and even the poultry industry is keen to get in on the action.
And while they’re eager to expand the technology, Shannon says they’ll do it side by side with producers.
“We’re proud that we’ve built it with industry from the start. The very first idea I pitched to two producers and asked ‘Is this going to work? Will this work for you?,” she says.
“We’re very passionate about it so there’s not a single insight or graph or dashboard or metric that hasn’t been developed, tested and asked for by the industry and that’s been really exciting. Some of our customers are also investors and that really shows that good innovation can come from within the industry and sometimes the best innovation does come from within the industry.”
For two women a bit young for the agricultural world and a tad ‘old’ for the tech sphere, it hasn’t stopped the pair paving their own way. Shannon says being unapologetically themselves will always remain at the forefront of Black Box Co.
“We’re female founders, we’re both mothers and we’re taking it in our own stride,” she says.
“We’re not trying to replicate someone else’s leadership style or company. As a company we know which way we want to do it and some things may be unconventional but they’re all asked for by, and part of, the beef industry. There’s so many exciting things ahead.”
For more visit: https://www.blackboxco.com.au/