What started as a spin-off of KU Leuven University more than 5 year ago, has now grown into a visionary top-of-the-range leader in Big Data and Data management solutions in poultry production. CEO Kristof Mertens may refer to Evonik Porphyrio as a ‘pack of hungry wolves’, but the Belgian tech scale-up is, in fact, arousing the interest of large parties worldwide.
He is very proud of what he and co-founder Bart Kemps have achieved in five years’ time. 'We had our first ideas fifteen years ago at university, but we managed to commercialise them in a mere five years with the team. In 2013 we were first movers, and now poultry producers worldwide are using our system', says Kristof Mertens, who is convinced that despite already having taken some serious steps in "Agritech", we are only at the beginning of the digital revolution in agriculture.
You got there early!
'Indeed. Our first ideas date back to 2004 when terminology like Cloud & Big Data did not even exist. When we entered the commercial market in 2013, everyone was talking about the Cloud and Big Data, but hardly anyone knew really what to do with it. In the meantime, we continued to build more and more functionalities into our products. Now, the industry has come to realise that what we were saying back then was actually quite sensible: advanced poultry farmers around the world now use Porphyrio technology. In Belgium, more than half of the target group use our products. The real growth opportunities are first and foremost in Asia and South America. Innovation is simply part of our DNA. We are also part of a large EU project: Internet of Food and Farm (IoF 2020). This is a consortium of 73 partners working on the rapid application of the Internet of Things in the European agrifood sector.'
As a technological world player in poultry, what is it that you do?
'Porphyrio is one of the market leaders in digitalisation and (big) data solutions for poultry farms. We develop tools that enable professional poultry producers to quickly collect and analyse all kinds of data about their chickens, ducks or turkeys. It allows them to see exactly how much the animals eat and drink during the day, when they should be vaccinated, when they are ready for slaughter or how many eggs they are going to lay. The system provides accurate insights into the present and future, with an early warning and prediction system. This prevents animal illness and allows earlier intervention in the event of a dip in growth so that the entire production chain can continue. These are smart techniques that increase the poultry's living conditions and lead to efficiently and hence sustainably produced meat or eggs. The end result? The right product, at the right time and at the right profit margin.'
In Q4 2018 you were taken over. What does a large enterprise like Evonik Industries see in Porphyrio?
'Although Evonik is mainly known as a world player in amino acids, it has a very clear vision on Precision Livestock Farming: digitalisation can optimise poultry production, as well as, at a later stage, pig and aqua production. Big Data is now big business; all the more reason to strengthen the Animal Nutrition Division and to invest heavily in innovative technologies such as ours. We offer excellent solutions and Evonik is a multinational with market impact and a strong network. It is important to get as many poultry houses as possible onto our system as soon as possible. With this merger, we will achieve that goal even faster.'
'WE ARE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION IN AGRICULTURE.'
What is your game, then?
'The first thing that comes to mind is that we strongly believe in the strength of our people. I sometimes envisage our employees as a bunch of young, and older, wolves; a pack of poultry experts, IT professionals, data scientists and sales people as it were, all moving internationally. Because we are an international group, the official language is English. Nationality is of no importance whatsoever, but commitment is. The atmosphere in the teams and the open culture are greatly appreciated by all. Our view is that when people feel good, they will perform better. This is a consequence of the New Way of Working strategy.'
How do employees contribute to the company's success?
'By providing clear and inspiring goals and a positive working environment, we ensure that our people can give the best of themselves. We enable people to really make the most of their experience in a company that can still be moulded. It goes without saying that we have a clear vision, but the road towards it is one that we walk together. It is the perfect place for people who want to put their experience to good use.'
Working in a conventional sector like poultry, but sitting in the front row!
'The evangelisation phase is behind us. Poultry producers and specialists now understand the revolutionary changes that are happening and are still to come. We operate in an extremely dynamic environment, in which we as Evonik Porphyrio operate independently. Not like an unwieldy behemoth, but rather an innovative and agile scale-up with global impact. Because whichever way you look at it, the challenge is to feed the world as efficiently as possible. Animal production plays an important role in this, albeit in a sustainable way with respect for animals, people and the environment. We have the tools to achieve more with less and that gives Evonik Porphyrio a relevant position.'
Kristof Mertens (L) and Bart Kemps of the Belgian agricultural company Evonik Porphyrio, formerly known as Porphyrio, which became part of Evonik at the end of 2018.