Member Spotlight: DARO

For our January Member Spotlight we spoke to DARO, an agtech startup looking to revolutionize farm resiliency through cutting-edge surveillance systems.

Tell us about DARO.

DARO is an agtech startup looking to revolutionize farm resiliency through cutting-edge surveillance systems. Our multidisciplinary team will leverage the insights gained during the COVID-19 pandemic to transform livestock health, productivity, and biosecurity. We envision a future where together with producers, we can eliminate the threat of outbreaks, letting farmers, not disease, control livestock operations. At DARO, our mission is bettering systems for bettering lives.

What products and services do you offer?

For the first time, we will provide pig producers routine, whole-herd, animal friendly, multi-pathogen, molecular monitoring of their barns at a tiny fraction of the per-capita cost of current individual case testing.

Our systems will generate the earliest and most accurate pathogen disease data available, allowing for quick action-items that will save producers millions per outbreak. We want to make barn pathogen data and disease forecasts as available and handy to producers as it is to check the weather. DARO systems will significantly improve endemic disease mitigation capabilities. And, while lessening the current disease loads across the industry, DARO systems can further be used for pandemic preparation of foreign pathogens.

Why is Nebraska an important location for DARO?

Pork is the number one consumed protein on the planet and the American Midwest is at the heart of this growing and global industry. Nebraska farmers contribute to the 70 million pigs in the U.S. and 1 billion pigs worldwide. The U.S. swine industry is the second largest in the world and generates over $24 billion in revenue. There are over 66,000 farms supporting over 610,000 jobs all located in and around Nebraska.

The state of Nebraska is welcoming to new agricultural innovation and its leaders understand the importance innovation plays in bettering the lives of farmers. We’ve been helped and supported by state run programs that are not available anywhere else. There is not a better place for DARO to reside.

Kristen and colleagues implementing measles surveillance in Kinshasa. 
Dr. Maria Jose trying out a new pharyngeal throat device on swine.
How many employees and/or who are you key employees?

We are a multidisciplinary team with deep industry knowledge in tech start-ups, human pathogen surveillance, and swine medicine and production. Core members:

Kristen Bernhard. Kristen is coming from the University of Nebraska Medical Center where she was lab manager for an emerging pathogens and genomics lab. She has agricultural and population genetics degrees from Iowa State University. Her contributions to surveillance programs globally, including Sars CoV2 wastewater surveillance, showcase her dedication to advancing public health. Kristen leads DARO’s commercialization.

Dr. Maria Jose Clavijo. Maria Jose has dual roles in research at Iowa State University and as a Health Assurance Veterinarian at PIC.  She is dedicated to understanding and preventing infectious diseases in livestock. Her international experience and expertise enrich DARO’s holistic approach to farm resiliency. Maria Jose advises DARO on pig medicine and production.

Rick Knudston. Rick’s tech entrepreneurial spirit, seen in co-founding Flywheel and Workshop, and his role as an active angel investor, adds a dynamic element to DARO’s leadership. Rick advises DARO on tech start-ups and business aspects.

Catherine Pratt. Catherine, Director of the global pathogen surveillance NGO, BioSurv International, brings strong genomics lab translational skills and deliverables through her deep experience working in challenging low-resource environments. Catherine advises DARO on pathogen surveillance technical aspects.

By tapping into our networks across academia and industry, we plan to quickly add collaborations with epidemiologists, economists and the end-user, pork producers.

Rick at Flywheel.
Catherine and Kristen at the National Labs in Kinshasa, Congo.
Who are your customers?

Our customers are pig producers across the world, and DARO is focusing our efforts right here in the heartland. The swine industry is multifaceted with farms specializing in different stages of production. We will be first targeting “high-health” breeding and sow facilities to complement their current efforts in advancing healthy, disease-free products.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing your industry today and how does DARO play a role in helping overcome those challenges?

Over the past decades, the trend in the pig industry has been to consolidate farms and move pigs through multi-site production flows. These changes increase production efficiency, but also increase the points of contact as pigs are moved through sites, increasing their susceptibility to infectious disease outbreaks. Disease mitigation is the most important factor in the industry.

In extreme years, endemic diseases cause over a 10 percent loss of pigs, and one virus alone, PRRSv, regularly costs the industry an average of over $660 million a year. Moreover, the U.S. industry is preparing for the threat of African Swine Fever, which is estimated to be over $80 billion in cost if not found early and mitigated.

DARO systems will fortify the swine industry by having routine pathogen checks on every pig. Our early and accurate detection information will allow producers to make health and production decisions, unlike they have ever experienced. DARO data coupled with use-case action-items will play a critical role for eliminating disease, with a snowball health benefit effect across the industry. As well, DARO systems will create a foundation for detecting and stopping pandemics before they happen, strengthening the swine industry and securing our national food supply.

What have been your greatest opportunities in the industry?

Collaborations. While lessening disease burden, it takes a shared “all-in it together” mentality. Swine producers, veterinarians and their farming teams understand the community burden of disease spread, and as well, understand how the solution must also involve everyone. The industry has deep knowledge on population herd health dynamics and DARO has enjoyed being warmly welcomed into this tight-knit, hardworking industry. We look forward to working together to resolve disease burden in the pig industry.

Anything on the horizon, or anything else you’d like to share?

At our early stage, there are a lot of open doors, and there is excitement around the process of building something new. We are eager to watch the growth of our team, collaborations, partners and early customers. We have our eyes set on building something beautiful and useful and will accomplish this through lots of collaboration and team creativity!