Moncton, New Brunswick’s Fiddlehead Technology is employing big data analysis to revolutionize the food and beverage supply chain. The company’s flagship product, Forecast Guardian™, is a cloud-based platform designed to help food and beverage manufacturers maintain more accurate forecasts with less effort.
Co-Founders Shawn Carver and David Baxter started the company in 2013, intent on solving problems through the use of data and analytics. Three years later, the company has received $1.8 million in seed funding, a round led by Build Ventures with support from the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation (NBIF).
Carver says the company is extremely passionate about using data to help the world produce more food with less waste. Opportunities NB (ONB) spoke with him to learn more about Fiddlehead, and to pick his brain on the topic of entrepreneurship.
ONB: What lead to the creation of this technology? Why this industry?
Carver: Both David and I have backgrounds that involved working with startups. From what we’ve seen, one of the big reasons companies fail is that they build these beautiful answers to questions nobody is asking. We wanted to avoid that obviously, so we went about things a little differently. The business was founded without any particular product in mind. We decided to find the best possible blue chip customer we could, and try to work backwards from problems they had in order to develop a solution. We were fortunate enough to connect with McCain.
We knew we wanted to do something with advanced analytics but weren’t sure exactly what, so we conducted a series of interviews across McCain to identify potential use cases for advanced analytics. Next, we evaluated 10 of those cases using criteria mutually agreed to with McCain — we landed on forecasting performance.
ONB: You and David met through New Brunswick’s entrepreneurial scene then?
Carver: Yes, we were both on the board at Propel ICT.
ONB: Let’s talk entrepreneurship. What have you brought from the Propel ICT experience to your role as a startup founder?
Carver: Before Propel I was involved with TheNextPhase, a company I co-founded with Toon Nagtegaal. Over the course of five years we worked with some 60 to 70 startups, helping them build growth plans. The analogy I would use is this: you can only get so excited about your friend’s new car. At a certain point you want your own.
You work with all these great young companies and watch them grow, and do what you can to help them along, and it’s infectious. If you’re around that scene long enough you want to do your own thing.
ONB: With your history of mentoring startups we’d be remiss if we didn’t get your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Carver: First, I’d say they need to understand the commitment that’s required before they start down this path. It’s incredibly rewarding but it can also be incredibly challenging. Startups are en vogue, and people are excited about entrepreneurship, which is great. Some people may not have a full appreciation for the time and financial commitment—and emotional commitment—that’s required to launch a successful company. It’s not just you involved; it’s your family too. That’s not a trivial thing.
Secondly, I’d say start talking to potential customers right out of the gate, before you’ve coded or built anything. Get out there and validate the problem you’re hoping to solve and be sure you fall in love with that problem and not your solution; that solution will change if you’re doing your job correctly. If you understand the problem, and it’s a real problem that can be quantified in terms of dollars and why it’s important, you’re golden.
ONB: Would you say New Brunswick has a strong ecosystem for entrepreneurs?
Carver: In terms of seed-stage funding and mentorship through the accelerators that are available like Propel ICT we have a very solid foundation. There’s no shortage of talented folks and ideas in this province, and securing financing is possible here; I won’t say it’s simple but it can be done. Scaling up from that starting point is the next challenge we need to tackle.
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to a number of startup hubs, and while startup communities in general tend to be tightly-knit, this region stands out as incredibly supportive. On any given day I know that if we have a challenge, whatever it may be, we can reach out to an extensive network and have any number of people ready to help.
ONB: How competitive is your space?
Carver: It’s competitive for sure. We feel, however, that our approach is fairly unique compared to what’s currently out there. Forecast Guardian is not meant to replace existing ERP or forecasting packages, it enhances them. It’s a decision support tool that allows demand planners to use what they’ve got more effectively. There’s two major pieces to that. First, we constantly evaluate the statistical models currently in place for our food and beverage customers, and identity which ones are in need of tuning or maintenance. We then give them recommendations on how those models can be enhanced. The second part involves identifying where human intervention with those models is adding to or detracting from value. We identify patterns in that data and then provide clients with recommendations on how to improve performance.
ONB: What’s the relationship been like with ONB?
Carver: Your team has been very supportive from the beginning. ONB’s support has helped us with hiring, and allowed us to attend a key conference in Chicago put on by the Institute of Business Planning and Forecasting (IBF). There were 30 to 40 demand planners attending from across North America and we were able to get in front of them and tell our story. We came back home with some very solid leads as a result of that trip.
ONB: Speaking of returning home, what brought you back to New Brunswick? You’ve lived in Toronto and elsewhere, isn’t that right?
Carver: Yes. A big part of coming back to New Brunswick was the thought of having kids. Most of the things that made me enjoy a place like Toronto as a young single guy were the things that made me question raising kids there. When it came time to think about kids I couldn’t imagine a better place to raise a family than New Brunswick.
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