It’s not without reason the Cork start-up, Treemetrics has been called the ‘Google of Forestry’. They are aiming to transform the management of forests, bringing it from the 19th century into the 21st.
The company was started by forestry graduates, Enda Keane and Garret Mullooly, who couldn’t shake the feeling that wrapping a measuring tape around the middle of a tree wasn’t the most accurate and cost-effective way to value forests.
“We met regularly at industry conferences and gatherings and we were both complaining that the systems on the ground, were simply not good enough,” said Keane.
“We wanted to bring new sensors modern day lean manufacturing technique to forestry,” he said.
One of the biggest problems that the forestry industry faced was inefficiency and waste. Until trees were cut and stripped it was almost impossible to tell the value of the wood that would be harvested. By the time a logger had cut down a tree and brought it to the sawmill it was too late. With the current technologies roughly 20% of the total value of a crop is wasted and the trees can’t be put back in the ground.
Given a the total value of the forestry industry running to €100bn that saving is worth €20bn.
The industry standard had been in place for more than 100 years and Keane and Mullooly acknowledge that forestry is an extremely conservative industry, with millions of forest owners unwilling to even harvest their trees due to poor knowledge.
“You have to be a bit of a lunatic to start the campaign that we did,” said Keane.
After nine years of research and development Treemetrics launched the beta version of their mapping product last week and they have perfected an end-to-end solution that takes the guess work out of forest management.
“The heavy lifting of the research and development is done,” he said. “We believe that we can now go on and become one of Ireland’s biggest tech companies”.
Having worked in partnership with the European Space Agency and tested their product in Scandanavia, Russia, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and South America, the company have now proven that their product can reduce waste and improve yields in forests around the world.
“You need to have the science papers to back up your claims. We’ve done it independently with the UCC and University of Oregon and it has all been peer reviewed. Nobody believes the hype about a tech company. You have to go to them with the facts,” said Keane.
When they began they could not have imagined the advantages that cloud technology could bring to the industry. They can now leverage the advances in big data and the cloud to give forest owners access to real time data on when to harvest and which portions of a forest to cut in order maximise profit.
This means that the days of a company felling acres of woodland in one fell swoop may be a thing of the past.
The final piece in the jigsaw of modernising felling techniques came from a contract from the European Space Agency. The space agency contracted Treemetrics to ask them to develop a real time communications between logging machines and the Treemetrics software. The communication can tell the logger which trees are to be cut down.
Taking everything into account Treemetrics reckon that they have developed a €20bn market that will help farmers reduce risk and hopefully give control of their crop back to the 15m private forest owners scattered across continental Europe.
Treemetrics are aware of the need to balance the commercial realities of forestry with the environmental benefits that trees have on the environment.
They are planning on giving their software away for free in parts of the developing world to allow indigenous people manage their forests and monitor for illegal logging.
The company have been supported through their development by AIB and by industry stakeholders who gave them contracts to get the product across the line.
They are now looking to raise a further €2m in funding through the recently announced Employment and Investment Incentive.
Keane and Mulooly are hoping that they will reap the benefits of the seeds that they planted nine years ago.
“The experts tell us that when you have financial, people and environmental factors in your favour, you have a good chance of success,” said Keane.
IBM have just celebrated their centenary and he doesn’t see why Treemetrics can’t follow their example.