SoleTech is an agritech startup dedicated to a sustainable, efficient and economical future in animal care through Kiwi ingenuity and creative innovation.

With animal health and welfare as our top priority, we strive to achieve two simple goals: a productive, comfortable life for animals and a more relaxed one for those who care for them. We think it’s about time to leave busted shoulders and physio bills behind; our game changing tools make cutting off a cow’s crown jewels or having an elbow up their family jewels a walk in the park, for the animal, and the veterinarian.

We are delighted to introduce two new inventions: the SoleTech Dehorner and the Fetotomizer. Both inventions which attach to widely available, commonly owned battery powered tools taking full advantage of modern technology and its benefits. 

First, with current technology, some surgical procedures take the average veterinarian anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours. With the addition of power, our devices aim to significantly reduce that time. That means cheaper vet bills, our cows back out on the paddock sooner, and the opportunity to treat more animals in need.

Second, any veterinarian can attest that a morning of dehorning or simply one fetotomy procedure is a sure fire way to run out of steam. Traditionally used tools rely on brute strength and a repetitive, strenuous back and forth motion. Our little pieces of Kiwi genius inject power into these physically demanding jobs making an arduous process far easier on the body. We want to save you the blood, sweat and tears and make it as easy as.

Our final and most important intention is to improve animal welfare by minimising animal stress and trauma. The combination of being isolated from peers, yarded, and placed in a headbail for a stranger to then approach, is every cow’s nightmare. By decreasing procedure time, we feel our tools diminish opportunities for complications to arise and allow our cows a faster return to what they do best - producing delicious and nutritious high quality milk and meat.

A SIMPLE IDEA

At the tender age of 31, David Sole has moved across oceans, finished veterinary school and invented two world-first veterinary tools. And that's just the start.

David Sole reckons there's nothing extraordinary about his achievements - that he's just a guy who happens to have been in the right places at the right times. But how many final-year veterinary students do you know who’ve invented, provisionally patented and publicly demonstrated world-first veterinary tools? Or founded their own start-up in the field of agricultural technology?

David, 31, took two instruments of his own design to the North Island Fieldays in June. One was for dehorning cattle: the other used a common power drill to mechanise a fetotomy (as a reminder to those who haven't worked with large animals in a while, this is a procedure that traditionally involves dissecting and removing a deceased cow fetus using abrasive wire and elbow grease). Both innovations could be game changing, and make David's 'SoleTech' venture an export success story. And he hasn’t even graduated yet. "This wasn't my plan, he says. "I never thought I'd invent something.

It was David's veterinary studies at Massey University that opened that door, and specifically a 2020 class on dehorning, which involved the use of abrasive wire. "Archaic," thought David. Then Massey senior lecturer, Dr. Kevin Lawrence introduced the class to the fetotome, which essentially comprises two pieces of stainless steel tubing through which wire is threaded. You loop the wire around the object you want to cut, then use the attached handles or enlist the farmer to do the grunt work.

"It was literally invented before the steam engine, and the design hasn't changed in 100 years, " says David. "I thought it wasn't right that in 2021 there was still a surgical procedure that relied on brute strength. That's when the idea was planted in my head.

David figured that every farmer and veterinarian had an electric drill. Why not take that electrical power and put it to work to make a fetotomy faster, more efficient and easier on the cow?

During lockdown David sketched up a design and ran it by some engineering mates – and "they all gave it the thumbs up. On the suggestion of one friend he entered his Fetotomizer in Massey University's Grand Ideas $5,000 challenge. He won first place and an introduction to his now mentor, veterinarian and inventor Garth Riddle, who opened his eyes to the idea of a second product - the dehorning tool - and the even bigger market it could reach. "I wouldn't have designed it if Garth hadn't made it obvious that I should."

Similar to the Fetotomizer, the dehorning tool uses power tools to augment traditional, manual wire dehorning tools. It's a faster, easier and more gentle way to remove the horns of older cattle, when necessary by the appropriate person with pain relief. It has potential in some overseas markets explains, where less emphasis is put on disbudding calves early or breeding cattle without horns.

David's next steps were to apply (successfully) for a $5,000 "Getting Started' grant from Callaghan Innovation, engage an  intellectual property lawyer and employ a Hamilton-based professional industrial designer (who'd worked previously with veterinarians) to develop prototypes of both tools. Later this year the designs will be fine-tuned and finessed with the aim of starting mass production by winter 2023.

David says he had no master plan to become an inventor-entrepreneur, but the venture was probably seeded when he was a boy growing up in South Africa. The family had a swimming pool, and one of David's early memories is of swimming with his father Tim, a paraplegic following a car accident in his second year of medical school, who was using a pool noodle to float. He said "David, the man who invented this thing is a millionaire now. I was fascinated by the thought that even the simplest idea can have financial success, guess I've been looking for my own pool noodle idea for my whole life."

The family moved to New Zealand in 2003 when David was 13. Tim, an internal medicine specialist, had secured a job as a physician. "He's my hero" David says of his father. "He managed to graduate medical school after his accident without taking any time off. I've never been hunting, fishing or played rugby with my dad, but he challenged me mentally and taught me to think".

David studied physiotherapy in Dunedin at the University of Otago, and later found work in Queensland Australia. However, he changed his career trajectory when he met his Aussie girlfriend's father, a veterinarian with an 80-hectare farm and his own veterinary clinic nearby. "I was finding physiotherapy a bit mundane; it wasn't stimulating me enough". When I met him I thought, "This guy has life sorted. I wouldn't mind being a veterinarian".

A move to Palmerston North followed, and by the end of his first year of veterinary studies David knew he'd made a good call. "It's such an amazing, challenging field. With physiotherapy you use your hands and you give exercises but veterinary medicine has a much wider range of practice – veterinarians really do do it all."

Having said that, David's focus post-graduation will undoubtedly be more on the business venture than clinical practice. He's bullish about the global market opportunities for tools that make life easier for veterinarians and animals - especially given that his inventions are breaking new ground.
"It's a really big industry, they're both brand new inventions, and there are no competitors around the world. I'm touching wood here, but I think there's potential for a lot of growth," he says, adding that his strategy is to adopt a 'printer and ink' approach, making the tools affordable but manufacturing and selling the wire on subscription. "Eventually I hope that every veterinarian has the tools, and the ongoing revenue will be from the wire."

Beyond these two innovations? "A lot of the technology and methods used in veterinary medicine and farming haven't changed in 60 years," David remarks. "There's plenty of potential for mechanisation and automation in the field. When I have some commercial success, I want to position SoleTech as an innovative company and look to produce a series of tools like these".

You may think that David is in thrall to the lure of fame and fortune – but he's far from it. His biggest drivers are animal welfare and sustainability, and his ultimate ambition as an entrepreneur is to create a business that can fund educational scholarships. "I think the next big shift in society will be through education. I've been so blessed to have family supporting me to do all this, and I imagine one day being able to give back and provide opportunities for others. That's what motivates me."

By Matt Philp

Meet the team

David Sole

New Graduate Veterinarian.

Experienced Physiotherapist with a history internationally in both public and private health sectors.

Founder and director of SoleTech, a start up agritech company.

Inventor of the SoleTech Dehorner and Fetotomizer.

Skilled in consulting, team leading, delegation, public speaking and innovation.

 

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