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The Inventivity Pod
Tracking Fresh Produce

Adam Kinsey is the founder of Verigo, a technology that uses smart sensors to track and monitor fresh produce during its journey from farm to truck to warehouse to store to table.  New technology like RFID chips has gotten dramatically cheaper, making the business model viable. A former engineer at Texas Instruments, Adam saw a new communications platform there that he knew could be adapted for fresh produce supply chains. A year later, no one else had adapted the technology, so Adam jumped in. “It was boldness or stupidity,” he says, that motivated him to enter a market he knew nothing about. *This episode was originally released on October 16, 2019.*




Intro: 0:01
Inventors and their inventions. Welcome to Radio Cade and podcast from the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention in Gainesville, Florida. The museum is named after James Robert Cade, who invented Gatorade in 1965. My name is Richard Miles. We’ll introduce you to inventors and the things that motivate them, we’ll learn about their personal stories, how their inventions work and how their ideas get from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Richard Miles: 0:36
Can the internet get me some fresh strawberries? Apparently, yes. If you can track them and integrate the information into global supply chains here to tell me how that works is Adam Kinsey. The founder of Verigo a company that does just that. Welcome Radio Cade, Adam.

Adam Kinsey: 0:49
Thank you, Richard. Thanks for having me.

Richard Miles: 0:51
So Adam, most of our listeners probably know or have heard about the internet of things, but in case we’ve got some late adopters out there among our listeners. Tell me in general, what is the internet of things? And you can describe for me what Verigo’s technology is.

Adam Kinsey: 1:07
The internet of things is a buzzword that spawned probably 15, 20 years ago. Now it’s the idea that we have complex systems in the world, whether it’s a building and that building has an HVAC system and a water system and all of the systems in that building historically, you’d have to have a technician go and look at each system one by one to manage that building IOT says, let’s put sensors on each of those sub systems. Let’s put wireless communications on them and let that building talk to you. IOT and related to buildings would be a smart building system, but it also can be applied to things that are in motion. So our specific areas, perishable supply chain, when you’re shipping thousands of truckload, shipping containers, aircraft loaded with pallets of cargo, same type of problems of important, valuable products that are in motion, and you need to be able to manage them in that supply chain. And so IOT in the supply chain is let’s put smart sensors and communications on each of those packages for each of those shipments and let them collect intelligence about themselves and talk to you while they’re in motion. So you can effectively manage the entire supply chain and all the products in it.

Richard Miles: 2:16
And so what has made that easier right, is a couple of breakthroughs in technology. And it used to be early computer age days, but the idea of putting some sort of physical sensor on a machine part right away was probably overwhelmed by cost considerations and ability of that sensor to talk to other sensors and so on what has happened that has made the ability for things to talk to other things cheaper, faster, more reliable.

Adam Kinsey: 2:41
What has caused the internet of things, quote, unquote, to grow so rapidly has been the development of new technologies like RFID, come on the scene that now makes it possible to make something smart for something on the order of pennies. Instead of having sort of a dollars.

Richard Miles: 2:54
And for those who don’t know RFID, right? Have this are like tiny little chips that can be physically put on a piece of clothing, a pallet of fruit or anything. And essentially we’ll then talk to a sensor nearby. Right?

Adam Kinsey: 3:07
The basic concept of RFID is we’re all used to seeing a barcode on each product we buy, but a barcode requires you to look at it and you have to have line of sight to it, to identify it. RFID says let’s take that barcode and let’s turn it into a tiny little chip that’s size of a few grains of rice that is wireless. And now I can read that from meters or even hundreds of meters away.

Richard Miles: 3:27
And cheap as well right? I mean, cheap to manufacture cheap, to attach to whatever you’re trying to track. Okay, let’s drill down now Verigo specifically. Where did you get the idea? Is this somebody else’s idea? And then how does it work? What system existed before to track produce? Obviously people have been tracking produce for awhile, but what came before and how does this change the game?

Adam Kinsey: 3:48
This is not a new idea, right? Tracking produce has been around. So then it’s the novelty of this idea is really in this implementation and which technology we use and how we did it. So let’s walk into history a bit. It has been since probably the year, 2000 become more and more standard to monitor trucks. So if truck is driving down the road, that truck is talking to headquarters and they can see where it is and see kind of what the status is of that truck. The challenge of that is if you’re shipping a lettuce from a farm in California to a grocery store in Florida, that lettuce is actually on quite a few different trucks, so great. You can see truck one carrying that lettuce. And then later on you can see truck two carrying that lettuce. And then later on you can see truck three, but you actually can’t ever see the lettuce or what happened to it along the way.

Richard Miles: 4:33
And some spots has been stored in the warehouse for hours or days.

Adam Kinsey: 4:37
Yeah. Often it stays. So where the inception of my idea came from I, when I was an undergraduate, I volunteered for a joint project with the UF Packaging department and UF Electrical Engineering department and they were working with fresh seafood suppliers, struggling with the same challenges. How do we get fresh seafood to market? And they were using a number of technologies to look at how do we reduce the waste, trying to get fresh seafood in from Chile. Actually, what they were working on doing was instead of monitoring at the truck level, can we now for the first time monitor the actual units of product, let’s move that level of granularity down to the individual unit of product. And that really had not been done before. It’s really challenging to move from monitoring 40,000 pounds of product to now monitoring a much greater volume of things like having all of the pallets and the supply chain talk to you. It’s a major technical challenge make that feasible at the right price point and to be able to handle all that data reliably. So the innovation that led to Verigo was really simple. It wasn’t our innovation. It was, I was working at Texas instruments in Dallas, in 2011, and I saw the release of this new wireless protocol. It really wasn’t necessarily designed in itself for the supply chain, but it had a number of characteristics that made it perfect for this exact application for monitoring salmon. And so I came back and started PhD, UF and I was expecting a number of companies, see this new communications platform and use it to help solve this problem. And a year later, no one had, so I said, well, I had done my own research otherwise and decided to build a system to accomplish this goal, using this new communications platform.

Richard Miles: 6:11
Now at this point, Adam, did you know anything about supply chains? Cause you were trained primarily as an engineer, right?

Adam Kinsey: 6:17
That’s correct.

Richard Miles: 6:18
Electrical engineer. Right? So supply chains is a whole other sort of science, right? Even it’s a fairly sophisticated, complicated science. What gave you the idea to plunge into an area in which I’m sure at least one person said you don’t know what you’re doing or maybe more, I don’t know.

Adam Kinsey: 6:33
I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Um, but I felt that in working on that one project, I had gotten to see some firsthand exposure to this place. And I’d gone into warehouses, I’d talked to truck drivers, I’d gotten some,

Richard Miles: 6:43
This is at TI Texas Instruments?

Adam Kinsey: 6:45
Um no this is actually with University of Florida with that resource project. Okay. So I had gotten a brief taste of the supply chain and what it looked like. I would say it was simply boldness and or stupidity that caused me to go and make the decision to enter this industry that I really honestly didn’t know much about, but I learned along the way trial by fire.

Richard Miles: 7:04
So let’s talk about that. Some, because it’s a fairly common story that we hear on Radio Cade and other places through the Cade Prize and so on. And it’s a story of an idea. That’s a good idea. And it’s a workable idea. So the idea has to sort of improve at some level and then the transition from that to the marketplace. Right? And so what happens a lot is the original inventor or the technical person thinks, well, I’ve got a good idea and it works. It’s basically going to sell itself. And then they discovered doesn’t sell itself. What were some of the early surprises as you thought? Okay, I have a great concept. I think it’s going to work. The market’s going to love this idea. What were some of the challenges moving from that stage to where you eventually ended up? It became widely adopted in relatively short period of time. So tell us what that was for Verigo.

Adam Kinsey: 7:50
So we started out with a very grand vision, which was, I saw an incredible amount of waste in the supply chain and wanting to prevent about 40% of the food that is thrown away. So in today’s fresh produce supply chain, about 10% of all fresh produce is thrown away before it even has a chance to be sold. So that’s after it leaves the farm between that point and now enters the supply chain between there and it being put on a shelf in Publix for you to buy 10% of it goes to waste in some ways that’s fantastic. That means 90% of the stuff coming in comes out, which is better than it’s ever been in history, but it’s still a huge opportunity to prevent waste $30 billion of fresh food waste in the world today that could be prevented. And about 50% of that can be prevented through systems like ours. So we started out with that huge idea and you can’t start with an idea that big in a reasonable amount of time. So a year and a half is enough time to build a product that worked and to get out and get that first taste of implementing it. Those first trial customers to put it in practice in the supply chain. And we learned this was too big as a first step. And so there were some hard conversations and we said, what we have to do is start smaller, narrow the scope of what we’re trying to do. We can still take the same technology platform, but let’s just pick one facet of it for one type of product and solve that for us.

Richard Miles: 9:14
So allow me to ask some before that, did you look at the entire produce market and say we’re going to solve all these problems? Is that when you say that your scope is too big?

Adam Kinsey: 9:22
Yeah. The scope that was too big it was, we were trying to monitor all the way from the farmer’s field to the in grocery stores and the retailer. If you’re monitoring that entire process, you’re actually monitoring the process of usually three different companies. Okay. So there’s three different entities that would have to adopt the platform, use it and work together.

Richard Miles: 9:40
Three different deals, all three that have to happen at the same time.

Adam Kinsey: 9:44
Okay. And that’s not feasible as a place to start. Right. So as a place to start, we’d narrowed our focus and said, let’s look at that last part of the supply chain. And in fact, let’s find those companies that have very valuable and very perishable products where they already have some monitoring in place, but they want a better solution. And so that’s where we started.

Richard Miles: 10:04
And sorry I heard you describing earlier the system that existed before Verigo was essentially some guy in a warehouse with a clipboard. Right. But it shipment would come in and whatever it is, lettuce, tomato, salmon, and to sort of eyeball and like, yeah, that looks fine. And it doesn’t look fine when you went to these companies, that’s what they had or was they had a few things better than that?

Adam Kinsey: 10:23
When you’re looking at the problem of food waste, it’s that quality inspector at the warehouse receiving dock who is performing the job, that visual inspection, the physical inspection of some sample of that load, that guides that decision making process of, can I accept this load? Can I bring this lettuce into my warehouse and then continue to ship it along? How long can I store it in my warehouse? And can I ship this another 2000 miles? Those three questions ultimately are all being answered by that guy doing that inspection. There are also wired monitoring technologies. Each truck comes in and hopefully it’s going to have a recording thermometer in it that if they choose, they can take it out of the truck, bring it over to their computer and then see what the temperatures were in that truck, retrieving that recording thermometer and downloading that data was somewhat unwieldy process. So most guys just didn’t do it. Those things were ignored, but that was an existing market that we were able to go into and find those companies using those recording devices and say, you’re paying for these things. And everyone in practices ignoring them by one that is much easier to use. And that provides the information much quicker. So the guy on the warehouse actually wants to use it right, and upgrade to our technology. And so that was our first entrance into the marketplace.

Richard Miles: 11:31
Let’s talk a little bit about other applications of the underlying technology like this tracking. Are there other applications out there? I remember reading, I think it was with clothing. The costs had gotten so low. There’s not feasible to track individual sweaters or blouses, not, not for shipping, but for inventory. Right? How many do you have in your store? Are there things out there that are being developed that are going to transform dramatically improve the efficiency in other industries in the same general description of tracking?

Adam Kinsey: 11:57
That wireless communications protocol that I got so excited about. And that was one of the first tech advances that was an enabling technology to do what we did. That progression hasn’t stopped right? There are now even newer and better wireless communication protocols that are going to make it possible to monitor even far more, just to narrow it down and clarify what we focused on, where those products, where you need to know more than just that they are there. We were actually instrumenting there’s temperatures, humidity, accelerometer type sensors that were going into that shipment. So you could record what was its temperature, what humidity was exposed to, was it dropped what kind of vibration did it experience. And so it could not only tell you that it was there like a shirt is an inventory, right? It could tell you what its current condition is. What’s the health of that product. And so we focused on things that were perishable and that were reasonably high value. And today there’s some really exciting technologies. Let’s list a couple of them, long range, wireless technologies like LoRa and Sigfox or two of them. And then even with 5G is coming the next cell phone vertical, there are some incredible things coming down the pike that are going to make it even easier for all of those products in the world in supply chains, to be smart and to be providing real time intelligence to the operators of the supply chain.

Richard Miles: 13:12
Because in theory, if that infrastructure exists to capture the signal that they’re admitting, right, they could be anywhere, almost any condition in it and sending out the information. Whereas now it would depend on infrastructure and that factory or the company that’s receiving it to pull that information for RFID chips are,

Adam Kinsey: 13:29
Exactly.The big challenge has been, we have great infrastructure for cell phones are everywhere. The problem is can you afford to put a cell phone on a pallet of lettuce? So what they’re doing now is releasing technologies that are going to be on every cell tower in the world. And they’re going to be incredibly cheap. Now they’re lowering that cost and lowering that barrier so that now the pellet of lettuce can afford to talk to you.

Richard Miles: 13:54
All right. This is part of the show. Now Adam, where we talk a little bit about you, tell us a little bit about yourself, your childhood, or sort of pre academic life. What sort of shaped you or what, what didn’t shape you.

Adam Kinsey: 14:05
So yeah, I was a son of an air force pilot. So we moved around quite a bit to have moved quite a bit as a child, I think makes you a little bit more self sufficient and self-reliant was it beneficial characteristic to have when coming into being an entrepreneur, being willing to accept risk and new things and take chances. As a child I would say I had a wide variety of interests. There was one passion that has was and still is aviation. I love aircraft in all forms. And as a kid, I was always designing, building and flying model airplanes. So that was my biggest hobby as a child. And it turns out to build Muller planes. They have all sorts of electronics in them. You’re playing with motors and soldering wires and working with all electronics and the radios, transmitters and receivers to make them fly. And eventually it started to become fascinated with how do all those work and wanting to learn more about that technology that made it possible for me to have my hobby and fly those airplanes around the sky. So that was the catalyst for me to get into electrical and electronics engineering.

Richard Miles: 14:55
Did you consider being a pilot at all? Following in your father’s footsteps?

Adam Kinsey: 14:58
I certainly did. Yeah. And actually I finally fulfilled that goal last year, private pilot’s license. So I now finally am a pilot, but I did consider it, but I loved building things too much. The quintessential engineer, the folks that are always tinkering and building. And I enjoyed that too much.

Richard Miles: 15:13
Were you a good student in school? Do you remember doing well and things like math and science?

Adam Kinsey: 15:18
Pretty good student at math and science and was a pretty good student. Just barely good enough to go to the university of Florida.

Richard Miles: 15:24
Okay. And this is now your opportunities for dispense a little bit of the wisdom. What sort of advice would you give to someone maybe just graduating from college now? Are there things you wish you had known when you were say 21, 22 that you know, now that would have been mighty useful a few years ago?

Adam Kinsey: 15:41
Hindsight is always 2020, of course. And so you never know really what you’re getting into. And to be honest, if I had known, I probably would not have taken this path. Right? But that doesn’t mean it was the wrong choice and I’m very happy that I took this path and I started this company and had a chance to sell it to a publicly traded company and see our solution adopted around the world. I mean, there’s just, it’s an incredible blessing to get, to be a part of that and to experience that. As far as what I wish I would have known it wouldn’t have changed the decisions that I made. I don’t think I would say the first thing you have to believe in yourself and you have to know that this goal can be accomplished, but there also needs to be a pragmatic side of you that says it’s also possible that situation’s totally outside of my control could cause me to not accomplish this goal. If that comes to fruition, you’re not destroyed. There’s a lot of entrepreneurs that struggle when things don’t go their way, it can lead down a very dark road. Just think it’s very important before starting any company or entrepreneurial venture is know that the goal absolutely is achievable, but even if I fail or don’t achieve that goal, this is something I want to have done anyway, this is the right thing to do. I believe that this product needs to exist or this problem needs to be solved, but accomplishing the goal is certainly not a given. And you need to go in with that understanding and be okay with it either way. The biggest learning that I had in this process was the scope and scale of this problem. You know, I was 21 years old when I started this company. So it was very young and very inexperienced still am, frankly, there are certain dynamics of problems that you want to solve. The technology never solves the problem. It can be the key factor that makes it possible for that problem to be solved. But ultimately the industry has to adopt a solution. The customer has to want to change their behaviors, use the technology, to enable them to change the behaviors and get the outcome and dealing with industrial companies and dealing with regulated industries. The pace of change can be very slow and slow and the rate of adoption can be really slow. And it’s not that they won’t adopt it. You’re wrong in your assumption that this problem needs to be solved in this can do it. It’s just, it was normal and average for our sales cycle to be one year from the time we were introduced to a client to first sale and in the worst case, it was three years. So that’s how it works. That’s not wrong for a startup.

Richard Miles: 17:56
An entrepreneur in which you, you measure things in like five minute increments, right? It’s like talking to someone who lives in dog years. You know, you’re making decisions every single day.

Adam Kinsey: 18:07
It’s important going into your startup venture to understand that industry you’re going into, we did not at the time. We adjusted, we found other kinds of clients. We were nimble. If you can accept those sorts of things upfront and include them into your plan, you can take a few less jogs along your path.

Richard Miles: 18:24
It’s the search for a balance because on one hand, as an entrepreneur, you have to be flexible. You have to pivot, you have to listen to the market. You have to listen to investors. You have to listen to your board and so on. But on the other hand, there is a component which you need to really stand firm and hold onto that original insight, original idea. And the problem is as an entrepreneur is where is that dividing line? Where’s that balanced? So I think you can’t totally surrender, right? As you’ve probably discovered to what the market even tells you or what a investors tell you, do this, do that. But in the end of the hand, your dad, pretty soon, if you don’t adapt and flexible and so on.

Adam Kinsey: 18:58
And what you can do is take the big vision and break it down into a much smaller goal that is not accomplishing maybe the bigger, longer term goal, but it is certainly a step in that direction. So it might be a step slightly off the path or the original path, but it’s still getting ya towards the end goal. And so those pivots absolutely have to happen. And we did them as well. You do have to be nimble while always keeping your eye on where am I trying to end up.

Richard Miles: 19:23
Had a great conversation, thank you very much for coming on Radio Cade, wish you the best of luck. Hope to have you back on here with your latest and greatest invention. I’m sure at your age, you still got plenty of good ideas left and it’s been a great conversation.

Adam Kinsey: 19:36
It’s been great to be here.Thank you so much, Richard.

Richard Miles: 19:37
I’m Richard Miles

Outro: 19:40
Radio Cade, would like to thank the following people for their help and support Liz Gist of the Cade Museum for coordinating and inventor interviews. Bob McPeak of Heartwood Soundstage in downtown Gainesville, Florida for recording, editing and production of the podcasts and music theme. Tracy Collins for the composition and performance of the Radio Cade theme song featuring violinist, Jacob Lawson and special thanks to the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention located in Gainesville, Florida.

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