Three innovative rural farm families from Saskatchewan have developed a unique safety device that will improve farmyard safety for their children and other farm families. “We saw a product similar to this device in Europe, however, when we investigated the possibility of importing the product we came across a few roadblocks to do that,” explains Wendy Wecker, one of the partners in Prairie Tech Enterprises Ltd. “We were still really interested in the product, so we decided we could go forward by making a ‘made in Canada solution’.”
The three Saskatchewan couples started Prairie Tech Enterprises Ltd. about two years ago and include Geoff and Kristine Vallance from Grand Coulee, Travis and Corrine Wiens from Milestone and Wendy and Joe Wecker from Sedley. They collaborated with an RFID technology firm in Markham, Ontario who did all of the technology development and engineering work on the product. A plastics company in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan is making the cases for the product.
The Whereabouts™ safety device has two components, a receiver in the cab of the vehicle or farm equipment and a sender in an RFID-coded wristband. Each child will be equipped with a wristband that sends a signal to the receiver and alerts the driver of the vehicle that the child is nearby. The receiver gives off both a visual signal with flashing lights and an audible alarm when someone wearing the sender gets within 100 feet of the vehicle or farm equipment.
“We put the sender into a bracelet, which is like a fob and can be attached as a bracelet, on a carabiner or in a pocket,” explains Wecker. “And it’s not just for kids, we have companies who have lots of hired men around or multi-generational farms where elderly parents are still participating in the farm and may not hear as well. It is also useful for pets and can be easily attached to collars.” The Whereabouts is purchased as a set of one receiver and one wristband, with additional components available. The price is expected to be around $400 to $450 for a set. That’s a small investment for improving safety and reducing risks on farms.
Getting to Market
Prairie Tech is hoping to have the Whereabouts available on the market in 2012. “We are in the final stages of product development and just completed all of the final prototype testing,” explains Wecker. “We have done a large amount of testing because of the nature of the product and to make sure it does everything we hope it should do.” The product is now ready to go through standardized safety testing, which should take about eight weeks and then they can begin manufacturing and selling the product.
One of the biggest challenges is getting into the marketplace. “We were hoping to have the product out in the summer of 2011,” says Wecker. “However because the amount of testing required for this type of product, it has taken longer than expected. Every time we made a change or improvement in the design, the prototype had to go back to the manufacturer and then we would have to retest everything again.” Another big risk factor is the monetary risk to manufacture the product, which takes a lot of capital to do a full production run.
“We have had a lot of interest and inquiries from across Canada and internationally, and hopefully the positive responses will turn into product sales,” says Wecker. “We have had local interest from businesses such as a fuel carrier and other farm service providers. One of the biggest roadblocks we face now is the time commitment to get the product out. We are working with marketing advisors and distributors to figure out the best path into the various markets.”
Wecker notes that when starting a new business there are many more steps along the way that you don’t always realize at the start of a project. “You have to be prepared that it will likely take longer and cost more money than you originally think it will. However, if you really believe in your product, which is the most important factor, then you just have to stick with it. There have been times we have all asked ourselves if its worth it and we all agreed yes because we all believe in the product and want to have it on our own farms.” Prairie Tech Enterprises received a Gold Standard innovation designation for their unique safety product at the annual Western Canada Farm Progress Show in Regina in June 2011.