Corporate innovation usually brings to mind large companies trying to introduce an entrepreneurial mindset into their business. But that’s not always the case. Lincoln startup BREWSENSE grew out of I.D.E.A. Labs, an innovation group inside of KZValve, an engineering, design & manufacturing company in nearby Greenwood, Nebraska.
“(KZValve owner) Keith Ziegenbein’s mindset is that you can always find a better way of doing things, whether it’s a dog door, trash can, or actuating a valve,” said Kyle Vest, BREWSENSE Co-Creator. “Whatever it is in life, there is always a better, more innovative way to do it.”
Building on their experience at KZValve, Vest and Co-Creator Nate Rasmussen developed a remote monitoring and control system for craft breweries.
“Keeping an eye on things like temperature and specific gravity are critical to the brewing process,” Rasmussen said. “Brewing the beer takes hours and someone is always on-site, the fermentation process takes weeks and temperature is a key element during this time.“
The system is cloud-based, making it possible for brewers to access tank information from virtually any location.
“The hub connects to the cloud and our app,” Rasmussen said. “It allows them to not only monitor temperature in tanks, but also control temperature from anywhere.”
BREWSENSE also provides notifications through the app.
“Notifications and alerts tell them if process values are outside a certain range, or if someone changes a temperature or a system goes offline,” Rasmussen said. “What we’re trying to do first of all is to give brewers peace of mind and allow them to get away from their operation.”
The integrated hub is designed to wire into existing equipment, but BREWSENSE also integrates with hardware like a specific gravity monitor to supplement other monitors for such things as temperature.
“It’s about three inches long and an inch in diameter, and can be dropped into any tank,” Rasmussen said. “It floats and measures the density and internal temperature of the beer and wirelessly reports back to the hub. That’s crucial for what state the beer is at in fermentation.”
After a year of validating a prototype, BREWSENSE launched its products and packages at the Craft Brewers Conference in Denver in early April.
“We had an excellent response,” Vest said. “We expected that because of our innovation process. We had a prototype there last year, and since then we’ve been validating features, value of the product, price points, gaps in the industry, what are competitors doing or not doing. It was a year-long process leading up to the release at the show.”
About 18,000 people attended the conference, with just over 1000 exhibitors.
“It’s a big show with a lot of seminars,” Vest said. “The trade show is a side deal, but we sold some units. The best feedback at the show was the simple and easy to use interface of the app. Users can add and configure their devices on top of controlling and monitoring them all within the app.”
BREWSENSE is focused on craft breweries for now, but their technology lends itself to other markets as well.
“As of Q1 2018, there were 9,175 active TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau) licenses for craft breweries in the U.S.,” Rasmussen said. “There are over 10,000 wineries, and distilleries are the next big boom. We’ve architected it to be flexible so we can shift into any type of remote monitoring and control.”
Beyond monitoring capability, BREWSENSE is working on enhancements to the platform that can provide business intelligence through data that is collected and securely stored.
“Our big & grand package is in the works that will have some business intelligence features to help brewers understand their beer profiles,” Rasmussen said. “It helps them grow their understanding of their brewing process and what it’s doing.”
Security is a priority for BREWSENSE, something that Vest said is often subject to shortcuts.
“We spend as much or more time on security as we do on features,” he said. “Security doesn’t seem important until you need it. Our back end is very strong and secure.”
Software development support for the BrewSense platform is being provided by Don’t Panic Labs.
“Don’t Panic Labs has gone from being a contract developer to being a partner,” Rasmussen said. “They bring more than just talent. They’re somebody we can trust and bounce ideas off of. They make us stronger.”
“They bring Silicon Valley tech savvy combined with Midwest work ethic,” Vest added. “We work side by side, and we produce and industry-leading product.”
Rod Armstrong is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for AIM in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a regular contributor to Silicon Prairie News.