How much water should a horse drink each day? How does an owner know if their horse is drinking enough water? There was an invention waiting to happen and in rode Emer Cooney.
Emer Cooney, an environmental biologist, and experienced horsewoman has invented and developed an equine drinking monitor for the lucrative international equine industry.
Cooney’s invention uses cloud technology and data analytics, from stable to paddock, to track and analyse water consumption for horses. Users can also set up automatic email or text alerts, to notify them of abnormal drinking behavior.
My Eureka moment
Everyone within the industry knows of the importance of water intake, and that horses are in fact performance athletes – yet we have very little detailed data on equine water consumption.
Vets, horse-owners, and trainers need to know that their horses are drinking adequate amounts of water. “How many buckets did that horse drink today”? That’s the significant question.
I have always been entrepreneurial minded and relished the challenge of solving problems. This combined with my scientific research background and my years of practical experience and passion for animal welfare were the real motivating factors behind my idea.
My journey to date
I think that I had to come to a point in my life where I was ready to take on that challenge and started to gradually investigate the concept while working at the same time.
I started on phase one of Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme to investigate the idea a little bit further. On completion, I was confident that the idea had potential along with a real commercial need.
In 2014 I founded Hydrasure and the following year got accepted into the Innovation Arena at the National Ploughing Championships. From then on, I received further validation and feedback from both Enterprise Ireland and from market exposure, which gave me the confidence that I needed to know that I was really onto something.
I grew up at the foot of Sugar Loaf Mountain in Co. Wicklow where as a child all I wanted to do was work with horses. At home, I didn’t have direct access to land so once I had the opportunity, I trained as a horse riding instructor in Brennanstown Riding School.
After that, I worked with horses across New Zealand, the Caribbean, and Ireland which allowed me to make my way within the equine industry. I always loved outdoor adventure and as an adult this extended to extreme sports, where I worked as a skydiving videographer, learning valuable video editing and video production skills.
At college, I studied Environmental Biology and gained experience in gathering and analysing biological data and examining relationships between variable sets of data.
I followed this with a Masters in Biodiversity Conservation at Trinity, where I specialised in freshwater research. While working at Trinity, I saw a need for the communication of science. I then trained in broadcast quality video production over the course of a year.
It enabled me to help researchers publish their scientific work when text-only research is converted to and communicated through the medium of video. I have no doubt that over the coming year that this skill will be of assistance in helping me market Hydrasure.
The problem I wanted to solve
At the minute, people use buckets that are laborious, time-consuming and unreliable – but you can see how much water the horses are drinking. Then you’ve got automatic drinkers that offer labour savings as well as a continuous water supply, but it gives no indication as to whether the horses are drinking or not. So people are caught – they have to compromise either way, with these existing options – and that’s the problem I’ve come to solve.
The percentage of people using buckets
From research, up to 67% of people say they use buckets to track water intake, and that’s quite a high number.
My system is the first smart drinking system that combines the labour savings of automatic (drinkers) drinking systems with the peace of mind of being able to show people that the horses are drinking adequately.
We have a patent pending on our products. Also, my background is fairly unique with regards to my combination of skills, having a background in horses as well as in environmental and freshwater biology. This gives me a level of insight into potential applications within this area that a lot of people otherwise wouldn’t have.
The market size and potential
Vets with clinics would be a target segment as they have their own stabling facilities and need to monitor that horses are drinking adequately.
However, it’s basically across the whole spectrum from studs, performance yards, racing yards, sports horse, dressage, show jumping, eventing. Also the consumer market, where people have one or two horses, and they just want the peace of mind that their horses are drinking normally.
One of the common misconceptions, that I have had to overcome, is that people think my solution is for high-performance race horses or very valuable racehorses. Large racing yards form a smaller proportion of the market than do leisure riders, who make up 65% of the overall equine sector in Ireland.
Competition yards would also be another key segment for us. The yards offer stabling with horses coming to an event, over a period of a week or weekend. This is important as horse drinking behaviour can be influenced by stress, movement, and new surroundings.
My biggest challenge so far
My biggest challenge this was finding the right people to help on the technical side. But, through the Enterprise Ireland network, I was lucky enough to find the right people to help me.
I secured leader funding, visibility grant from my Local Enterprise Office along with competitive start-up funding of €50,000 from Enterprise Ireland. Most of my time has been spent trying to raise funds, and that will change. In 2017, more time will be spent looking for sales but in the early stages to get the product out, you’ve got to find the money.
Most of the promotion has been free. We’ve won awards at the 2015 ploughing championships, and that gave us a lot of exposure. We also received excellent coverage in The Irish Times and Irish Field.
I was also accepted into the DCU Ryan Academy Accelerator Program. We have also been mentioned in Silicon Republic and are listed as one of the top IOT 100 startups to watch out for in 2017.
‘Equine data on demand.’
What is the plan for the next few years?
We would like to have our solutions in most of the major stud farms in Ireland and the UK. We are forming partnerships and relationships with international research institutions, veterinarians, which will be of huge help to us moving forwards. We want to capture market share in Ireland and the UK and to be in the position where we can roll things out further afield.
So in a year two, I’d like to have the right distribution partnership in place as there’s massive global potential for our solutions, across the US, Canada New Zealand, Middle East and Australia.
Interview by Brendan Byrne.