29 Apr Bharath Sudharsan
Get good grades.
Get a good job.
Work nine-to-five for the rest of your life.
Coming from a conservative, middle-class family in India, Bharath Sudharsan never considered a career world outside of the standard that he grew up in. Then he came to North America and all of that changed.
“There were so many entrepreneurial activities!” Bharath exclaims, still almost in disbelief. “Mental barriers are harder to surmount than any physical barrier… [there was an expectation that] you needed to be someone of a specific caliber or to have an MBA. North America taught me better.”
The Creation of SomaDetect
What does SomaDetect do?
On the most basic level, SomaDetect was co-founded two and a half years ago by Bharath and his two other co-founders, Nicholas and Bethany, to create a better life for cows and for dairy farmers to manage their herds easier. However, there is nothing “basic” about SomaDetect. An Artificial Intelligence developed to monitor dairy cows 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to see how they drink, eat, produce milk, milk quality, etc. to help diagnose patterns that make herd management easier.
Milk is a complicated fluid, an emulsion with fats, chemicals, and hormones, all moving at gushing speed under vacuum pressure. Being able to analyze the image of the milk with AI is where AI fits into the milk quality and herd management analysis. The more data that it collects over time, the better it is for future customers.
What is AI?
“In my opinion,” explains Bharath, “Artificial Intelligence is a simple program that you write that has a decision that it makes by itself; it is artificially inspired.” Where the intelligence gets a little fuzzier is when you begin to learn from your mistakes or “machine-learning.” This is how toddlers learn to walk; “step over the step and not run through it because then you will fall.” “Deep learning” goes a little bit further into the details, taking several parameters and making complicated analysis. AI goes one step further by artificially using deep learning.
Breaking into Agriculture AI
With a basic training in electronics from undergrad, Bharath found himself transitioning from signal processing to image processing. This is the difference between one dimensional to matrix, or, as Bharath says, “At least there’s pictures! Way better than just looking at numbers and code!”
Bharath noticed a trend, however, that his peers were going into areas tagged as “cool tech,” such as self driving cars. In fact, his professor even said that agriculture was the industry that technology goes to die. Being a native from India, where the growing economy puts a higher strain on agriculture to provide food security, Bharath was curious as to what his role could be.
Finding agriculture universities that needed robotics engineers, he got into a program with a full scholarship. Education involved self-driving tractors, drone sprayers, and other futuristic agriculture practices of tomorrow. A natural progression within the industry led to food safety.
From Cushy Office Job to Entrepreneurship
“I know you are looking for exciting opportunities, I have these close friends who would like to have breakfast with you,” said a mutual friend of Bharath and his future co-founders Nicholas and Bethany.
In what can only be typed as a “get to know each other” meeting, Bharath exercised caution in building the relationship and loyalty with Nicholas and Bethany over the next six to eight months. In that time, they were able to build their business relationship to a point that with confidence and (some) comfort to make the leap to full time entrepreneurship.
Nothing Falls Into Your Lap; You have to fight tooth and nail for it.
Applying for a large scientific-entrepreneur grant, the team was confident they were well on their way. Bharath quit his full time job, booked a flight home to tell his family of his business venture and to give them a heads up that he may not be able to come see them for a few years. Upon returning back to Canada, Bethany broke the bad news that they didn’t get the grant.
“I still had student debt, loans on my back, and Nick and Beth were the same,” Bharath says. “It was a really tough time, but we had faith in the company, faith in the product and faith in the market that kept us going.” The team functioned off of $2,000 in their savings throughout the next six months.
A big part of that faith came from the customer validation. Going door-to-door to dairy farmers, asking them to fill out surveys, building relationships with the hardworking dairy farmers of their province, inspired and proved that they were exactly where they needed to be. The data collection and relationships they built paved the way to Accelerator Program opportunities, conversations with policy makers, and winning a business grant in 2017.
Career Advice from Bharath
“I am not a man for quotes but the essence of what I once heard is, ‘Life is short, opportunities don’t knock on our doors all the time but, if they do, grasp it with both hands and don’t let go.’” There were so many unknowns when Bharath left his full time job and, at that point, there was more to lose than to gain. In retrospect, he says that the decision he made was the right one and a no brainer.
“When it gets really tough, have the attitude that it’s going to change…night is darkest before the dawn. Blind optimism, indomitable will. Sheer force. Sheer effort. Sheer trust in your team. You are only as strong as your weakest link, so build that team for success!”
Make sure to subscribe to the AgGrad YouTube Channel to learn more about career opportunities in agriculture and follow along on the special “30 Under 30 in Agriculture” series! Follow along with SomaDetect on Facebook and you can contact Bharath at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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