Reproduction is big business. The tech industry is tackling ways to streamline this fact of life, creating fertility-tracking apps, wearable monitors, and ovulation detectors, among others. And it’s not only humans that are part of the mix. Animal breeding is just as challenging. The Taiwan-based startup Aidmics Biotechnology has a new invention: a system that analyzes livestock sperm. Essentially, it turns an iPad into a powerful microscope and diagnostic tool at a fraction of the cost of conventional methods.
Here’s how the iSperm (yup!) works: Attach the optical lens in front of the iPad’s camera, prep a semen sample, affix to the lens, and use the app to take a video of the sperm and measure the concentration and motility. The greater the concentration and motility, the stronger the sperm and the more likely it will inseminate an egg. Aidmics is targeting the iSperm to animal husbandry. Agriculture is an industry that’s technical innovation has largely ignored, and Silicon Valley is taking note. In May 2015, Google Ventures invested $15 million into finding ways data analysis can improve crop yields and resource efficiency.
When it comes to livestock, increasing output isn’t the same as dousing a field with fertilizer; it’s an often expensive science that involves human intervention, lots of tests, and specialized equipment. “Artificial insemination is one of the crucial specialties in the livestock breeding industry,” Agean Lin, Aidmic’s founder and CEO, says. “Traditionally breeders have to test semen samples in a lab. It takes time to finish the whole process and money to train technicians.” Lin estimates that the average professional equipment cost is about $65,000 to $70,000. He’s priced the iSperm around $100 and says a sample takes about one minute to test. Aidmics launched the iSperm for boars in 2014 and the first farmers who used the device reported a 20 percent increase in success rate. The company plans to expand into poultry, goats, and cattle this year.
While iSperm started with livestock, the real cash cow is at-home fertility tests. Lin estimates that the revenue generated from the human fertility industry in the United States, China, Japan, and Brazil is about $560 million—some valuations have placed it around $9 billion—while the global market scale of animal husbandry is around $825 million. “The issue of human infertility would definitely draw more attention from the public than the problem of artificially inseminating animals, and thus contributes a lot more commercial value for Aidmics in the long run,” Lin says.
Part of the growth stems from the stigma attached to infertility. “Men feel a kind of ‘losing face’ when going to the hospital for diagnostics and treatment,” Lin says. “iSperm can serve as the first check for them in private. By controlling diet or adjusting living patterns, infertility patients can improve their sperm quality. We see value in empowering people to know more about themselves.”