26 Jan Alika Chuck: Pharm Robotics
The mechanisms and technical skill of Pharm Robotics, an agtech startup dedicated to improving efficiencies in the dairy industry, is impressive, but not nearly as impressive as it’s co-founder and CEO Alika Chuck. Coming from a world outside of agriculture and the dairy industry, one would assume Alika was well versed in robotics. He wasn’t. With no background in either side of the industry, Alika proves that interest, passion, dedication to building authentic relationships and a tenacity to learn can take your business ideas to the next level.
An injection system created for both the dairy and beef industry, Pharm Robotics mission is to alleviate many of the pressures and costs associated with medical injection needs in animals. The ability to perform these injections eliminates labor costs, while also eliminating human error in record keeping on which animal receives medicine and which one doesn’t.
“My partner thought of this because he is a dairy farmer himself,” explains Alika who overcame huge obstacles to make Pharm Robotics a reality.
Identifying Why Pharm Robotics Is Needed
Labor is one of the biggest costs in a modern day commercial dairy. Finding skilled and knowledgeable labor is an even scarcer commodity to find. Currently, if an animal needs a shot, it will alert on the laborer’s computer screen or be identifiable in their spreadsheet, but there is no real way of tracking if the animal has had a shot due to the potential of human error and/or a misprinted tag number.
“Our system is automated with RFID and radio frequency identification to validate that the cow is 100% in compliance and that each cow is getting her respective shot,” says Alika about what sets Pharm Robotics apart.
What a producer can see with the elimination of that margin of human error provided by Pharm Robotics, is an increase in income from growing herd size and milk production. On the cost side, labor can be let go or you can focus that labor cost into a cost equivalent, such as skilled managerial labor. Labor can be allocated to more focused areas causing higher efficiencies for the overall farm.
Dairy & Robotics With No Background
Alika met one of his best friends his junior year of high school and, after attending a family dinner, became friends with his parents and received a job to work on their dairy in Riverside, California. In 2015, they were looking for someone to fill a position for operations and quality management for their composting program and, despite being scared of the opportunity, Alika took his chance. “It was one of the best decisions I made.”
In that position, he was introduced to Marinus, who became a mentor throughout Alika’s college experience. Overseeing the production of nearly 60,000 tons of organic cow manure, selling through the California valleys, and creating opportunities and connections for himself, strengthened their relationship.
Writing an IP, Business Plan, and Patent From Scratch
Two and a half years into working with Marinus, Marinus brought up an idea about robotic injections. Marinus needed someone to write the IP and develop the business plan. With Marinus’ help, Alika wrote up the entire business plan and financial model, as well as the IP in July 2017.
Purchasing a course on YouTube on “How to Write Patents,” Alika got to work to protect their intellectual property. Marinus, who had done some schooling in Holland when he was younger, Alika states is “one of the smartest people that I know in understanding things conceptually.”
With involvement in the dairy industry for over 20 years, Marinus was able to think of what parts or components were needed for Pharm Robotics. Alika’s job was to be concise and execute his thoughts exactly on paper. It was a combination of their workflow that provided them the success they have seen so far.
Writing patents are extremely challenging as they are not only time sensitive, but also extremely technical while constantly changing as the patent develops. As their team got closer and closer to the deadline, they kept coming up with ideas to improve it!
“The hardest part was trying to stay broad enough with the patent … so we weren’t getting too ridiculous with our ideas but still had the necessary items that we needed to execute for this first prototype,” Alika explains.
Conceptually, the entire idea of Pharm Robotics was created by Alika and Marinus, but they have outsourced the actual design and integration of the concept to an integration firm. Partnering with a firm they trusted, the firm will create the prototype. From there they will make decisions on production which is currently slated on a as-ordered basis and other wholesale manufacturing needs.
Figuring It Out
After writing three different patents, Alika now has a unique resume-building skill that he can bring to the table for if he continues down this path or heads down the road for another venture. Despite having no prior experience in robotics, writing IP’s and business plans, or creating patents, Alika has been able to figure everything out with perseverance and passion.
“Seventy percent was YouTube Videos and thirty percent was a patent attorney to make sure it was filed correctly,” says Alika. “It was nerve wracking for sure because I didn’t really know what I was doing.”
“I am just not one to be afraid to jump into something of this caliber,” explains Alika. “I recognize that this could easily fail on the prototype completion. I have learned so many important experiences and skills that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Honestly, for people on the fence with an opportunity, my advice is to go after it. I recognize that with every failure comes a very valuable experience.”
Chasing any goal of this magnitude, there are a lot of steps and tasks to be completed every day. Alika’s advice is to be strategic on how you manage your time to be efficient and to not burn out. Having always had a busy schedule, he utilizes the strong work ethic he’s acquired from watching his parents, to manage his time to accomplish what he needs to in the time he’s given to reach his goals.
“There are a lot of cool ag tech startups to get involved in,” says Alika about the ag tech industry. “If people are concerned about improving the environment and agriculture, I would definitely encourage them to look into these opportunities.”
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