WHO: Tokaora Diagnostics
Founders: Frey Livingston & Pam Livingston
HQ: New Plymouth
What products, services, solutions or technology have you developed?
Tokaora Diagnostics is developing a commercial product (similar to a RAT test) which will enable facial eczema (liver disease) in sheep and cattle to be detected at low-cost and onsite by the farmer. This will allow the disease to be treated before it becomes a production issue and facilitate breeding for facial eczema resistance.
WHAT KEY CUSTOMER PROBLEMS OR CUSTOMER “WANTS” DOES YOUR SOLUTION SOLVE?
Essentially we are making facial eczema “visible” so it can be effectively managed.
Facial eczema costs the NZ economy around $250m per year in lost revenue and in any one season an individual farm can take a substantial financial hit. The significant challenge of the disease is that by the time external symptoms show, it’s too late to save the animal.
It results when the animal eats the fungus spores of Pithomyces chartarum which are found on ryegrass and multiply in warm, wet weather. These spores, once ingested by ruminants, cause liver damage and lead to the characteristic skin lesions that give the disease its name.
There is an existing blood test, however logistical restrictions and high costs prevent the use of this test across whole herds, as it requires specialised laboratory testing of blood samples.
Without accurate and holistic herd health data, farmers have limited ability to make decisions regarding disease management.
The most accepted damage reduction measure is pre-emptive use of zinc which doses all animals equally, regardless of whether they have the disease. Zinc has a prophylactic effect and is introduced in concordance with grazing management to limit the injury to the animals. It is a toxic mineral that can cause poisoning that in itself leads to production losses especially in higher doses.
Challenges in the management of facial eczema are expected to intensify in coming years due to the effect of predicted climate change on the range and density of Pithomyces chartarum.
Who and where are your target customers?
Our first target customers are dairy farmers in areas of New Zealand which are currently/traditionally affected by facial eczema. This equates to 1.25m cows, mostly in the North Island.
While facial eczema is predicted to worsen with climate change, we are already seeing areas in the South Island experiencing an outbreak for the first time. Our product will be useful for emerging problem areas in making the early stage facial eczema “visible” to the farmer.
The disease is generally regarded as a New Zealand problem, however other primary producing nations are recognising the significant impact in terms of animal welfare, production and farmer mental health.
How and when did you first come up with the idea for your business?
Frey studied similar devices as part of his Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology and assisted with a similar startup company at Victoria University that was working on biosensors. While studying, his father looked over his shoulder and asked why he couldn’t do something like that for facial eczema!
This was in 2018. When Frey began his Masters later that year, his supervisor was kind enough to let him go beyond the boundaries of a standard Masters project and spend those two years working on finding a way to integrate human biosensors like RATs with the existing body of knowledge on facial eczema.
It was following his Masters research that Frey teamed up with his mum Pam to start Tokaora Diagnostics. Pam has extensive background in management and projects and the skill sets of the two are very different but complementary.
What are three things about your business that you are proud of?
- It is from original research of Frey Livingston wholly owned by Tokaora Diagnostics.
- Our first product addresses a serious problem in Aotearoa NZ agriculture.
- It is a family enterprise that is making a real difference in the world.
How do you market your business and what advice do you have for others around marketing?
Currently through LinkedIn and through the Sprout program.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in building your business so far?
Getting the materials and resources together including laboratory space. Delivery times and bureaucracy have a big impact on the best laid plans!
Being a self promoter doesn’t come naturally for us. Recognising that you have a great product is one thing – convincing others is another.
What is the biggest entrepreneur lesson you would like to share with other Kiwis thinking of starting their own business?
There are regional and national incubator programs set up to help new businesses. Get involved in them and take onboard advice you are given. We have been fortunate to be involved in both the Venture Taranaki PowerUp program and the Sprout Accelerator. We have had access to great resources and our mentor Bridgit Hawkins has been alongside us through the journey. It’s hard to picture where we would be now without them.
And secure your IP (intellectual property) – that’s the core of your business.
Story created in partnership with Venture Taranaki.