After years of research, Bruce Rasa and his team identified a consistent pain point for field workers: capturing data on-the-go and looping it back to their headquarters.
They need a co-pilot, he said, noting the role played by KC-based Dexer (formerly AgVoice), agriculture’s first handsfree data capture service to help cross-industry specialists create records — using just their voice — recognizing industry-specific and scientific terms, with no internet access.
Dexer works without the use of bluetooth but having the right accessories will help to expand efficiencies of use. Optional hardware includes a Bluetooth enabled ring and Bluetooth headset, which Dexer does sell in a package.
“It’s for the army of experts that support (farmers, ranchers and growers) — this is their veterinarian, their agronomist, soil scientists; it could be machinery repair,” explained Rasa, co-founder and CEO of Dexer. “The people we’ve been able to serve are in challenging environments, so they’re often on the go. They have a large number of inspections to do. Basically, typically, their hands are usually occupied. So we allow them to stay focused on the tasks at hand, still capturing the records while they’re doing the tasks.”
He offered a family dairy farm with 600 cows east of Kansas City as an example where Dexer has made recording data more efficient.
While artificially inseminating several cows, he recalled, the farmer took off his sleeve, tossed it on the ground, and took out a marker. He then proceeded to write the identification number of the bull, as well as the numbers of the impregnated cows, on his arm, so he could transcribe it — hopefully correctly — in the office later. That, for him, was the easiest way to keep the necessary records and didn’t require risking their expensive tablet being dropped in the manure.
“I’ll show this to people and they’ll be like, “Oh my gosh, that’s so backwards; I can’t believe that,” Rasa said. “In that environment — in those conditions — that’s what works or that’s what’s practical.”
Dexer was founded in 2017 by Rasa, John Swansey, and Aaron Gobin and — as AgVoice — was among the members of the Kansas City-based Sprint Accelerator’s first cohorts to mix agriculture and digital startups. The team later earned a $100,000 LaunchKC pitch contest grand prize in 2018.
And although the ag industry was its original focus, Dexer has now grown to include the insurance and construction industries, especially for inspections. The application can be customized for each enterprise’s needs.
”They have escalating pain points for data capture,” Rasa added. “They’re usually people that are on the go quite a bit, so they don’t just have an office and keyboard. And for that matter, they often don’t have connectivity.”
Dexer — which moved its headquarters to KC from Atlanta during the pandemic — can help these field workers do their job 30 percent faster through the proprietary natural language engine that they developed, said Rasa.
“Specifically for groups like agronomists — they own their own businesses often and they’re independent — in many cases, they can cover up to 30 percent more acreage. They can translate that immediately to dollars.”
And in rare cases, he continued, a two-person job can be done by one person.
“We don’t replace the person,” he added. “It’s about augmenting them and helping them do the task and task completion better. … We hero up the worker.”
The tech startup mostly works with mid- to large-size enterprises, Rasa said, like family-owned Beck’s Hybrids, the third largest seed company in the country.
Todd Piper, a corn breeder for Beck’s, admitted he was skeptical of the service when they were introduced to it in 2021.
“They had to convince me because I’ve been doing this for 37 years and thought I had it all kind of worked out where I use a tablet for collecting data, mostly in either handwriting or hand-entry or shortcuts,” he explained. “I really thought I had it down and I didn’t see how voice would add anything to it. And so what I discovered after working with them for a while is there’s a number of things that I do where I need my hands, but I still want to take detailed notes on my research material.”
For example, Piper continued, when he had two fields of about 12,000 different inbred corn lines to inspect, he would have to record and tag the rows that were not acceptable. This required him to record it in his tablet, then set the tablet down, so he could pull a tag out of his apron and staple it to the row.
“Over 12,000 rows that gets really old and with Dexer I’ve got my hands free,” he noted. “The amount of time that saved me — I would have to say it’s a task that probably would have taken me, easily, four days only took me two. It’s a significant change and so that’s when I started thinking that this is something that could really help me.”
Rasa — who grew up on his family’s farm in Higginsville and earned an agricultural economics degree from the University of Missouri — spent the first 20 years of his career (15 years with IBM) as a project manager in the tech industry in the Southeast.
About two years ago, he and the other co-founders decided to move the Dexer headquarters to the Midwest. After looking at several locations — including St. Louis, Des Moines, Omaha, and Manhattan — they landed on Kansas City.
“It’s just the ideal combination for us, as far as growing a startup,” Rasa explained, “the classic Midwestern work ethic; frankly, affordability, even for the team and our family’s quality of life; the Chiefs — the Chiefs weren’t good when I was growing up, now they’re great. So we were very serious. We were very intentional. We moved from Atlanta, which is actually probably almost a Top 10 nationwide in tech startups. But there are pieces here with culture, in particular, (and) getting close to our customers that have been hugely beneficial.”
Kansas City-hosted industry-specific conferences, events, and culture — in particular around agriculture — especially the KC Animal Health Corridor, that have been absolutely fantastic, he continued. Dexer is also part of the current class in the Wichita-based accelerator NXTSTAGE Customer Traction Cohort.
Related: Four KC-area startups tapped for custom accelerator targeting diverse range of Kansas entrepreneurs
“(There are) world-class connections (and) potential for customers, partners, and in some cases investors in the Midwest,” he added.
Voice of the future
In 2023, Rasa said, the team at Dexer will be working on its interactive mode, which is in the beta phase, and working on how they can harness generative AI technology to help their users even more.
“There’s a piece of this new wave of artificial intelligence that’s quite magical,” he added.
They are working on a prototype of using the technology to allow the users to create a summarized report of their customized data, according to Rasa.
“We think it’s a perfect complement, not a replacement for us,” he noted.