Cowboys and ranchers may soon have a new tool to track their livestock as part of trials by drug giant Pfizer.
Instead of just using herding dogs and horses, they’ll be using BlackBerrys and software developed in Colorado Springs.
The company behind the technology, New Planet, housed in the Colorado Springs Technology Incubator, struck a deal with Pfizer to begin testing the tracking software in September.
The technology promises to make it easier for cowboys to record medical field trials, and for Pfizer scientists to analyze the results — without the headaches and errors associated with paper records.
“Until now, the cowboy would note a problem on a piece paper, (and) carry it around all day until he went to the rancher’s office,” said Tyson Hartshorn, owner of the company. “There were lost records, incomplete records. It costs money in the long run.”
Simple enough for quick data input from the field, the software is “rugged enough on the front end for cowboys and vet techs who might not be used to technology, and sophisticated enough for Pfizer to run their reports on the back end,” he said.
The software can help ranchers track the health of a pregnant cow, or how a calf reacts to medication. It can also be used to track retail inventories, shipments, even patients in a nursing home.
New Planet’s technology relies on a combination of cloud and mobile computing, and was made possible as a result of advances in smart-phone technologies.
“Once it’s put into the mobile device, like a Blackberry or an Android phone, it instantly is encrypted and sent to our servers,” Hartshorn said. “Then people can log on at any time, on any computer, with their password and download the information.”
For Pfizer, the software will be used to track a $300 million annual research and development investment in animal health. The company focuses both on livestock and companion animals.
Pfizer isn’t alone in its interest in New Planet.
The company is in talks with Terry Stokes, former president of the National Cattlemen’s Association, who also owns a cattle company.
Hartshorn said Texas home-health agencies also have expressed an interest. Nurses can use its software to track treatments to patients in their homes in order to more quickly and accurately apply for Medicare reimbursement.
While New Planet’s star seems to be on the rise, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.
Hartshorn said the company had to overcome funding and other major obstacles.
“It’s the economy,” he said. “Even companies that know they aren’t tracking inventories efficiently, who know they need help, are reluctant to make a capital investment when times are tough. They’re reducing inventories, laying people off. We had to overcome that.”
To help companies overcome their reservations, New Planet offers a month-to-month “lease” of its programs to “ease the pain” on their bottom line, Hartshorn said. The company also offers more than just a license to its software.
“Cowboys and ranchers — they aren’t used to technology like this,” he said. “So we provide all the back-up services needed. They just have to run the reports. They get more than the product — they get the company.”
Hartshorn is used to hard work — and disappointment. Recruited by the Toronto Blue Jays out of high school, he blew out his arm in his second season. He turned his attention to college with as much determination as he had baseball, and finished both undergraduate and graduate degrees in three years.
“He’s my model client,” said Duncan Stewart, executive director of the Colorado Springs Technology Incubator. “I wish I had 10 more like him. He’s smart, he’s aggressive; but he’s coachable. He knows how to weed out the bad advice, and put the good advice to work for him.”
New Planet now employs seven people, and is hiring new software engineers. Hartshorn said it’s sometimes not easy in Colorado Springs to grab prospective employees’ attention away from companies involved in Department of Defense work.
“As a private, high-tech guy, I am overshadowed,” he said. “It’s a DoD town. It’s hard to gain recognition for your talent in a DoD world. But people need to support this kind of good, grassroots business. It’s essential to the economic environment. It’s the way to get smart, young people to move here, and to stay here.”
So what’s next for New Planet?
“The next six months, that will be telling for him,” Stewart said. “A lot of these are paid demonstration contracts, and if they work out, then he’ll have some very lucrative permanent contracts.”