‘Good idea’ over a beer proves worth

Zero Harm Farm co-founder Mark Orr explains the health and safety software start-up’s aims and...
Zero Harm Farm co-founder Mark Orr explains the health and safety software start-up’s aims and objectives. Photo: Supplied
Like many great ideas, Zero Harm Farm started over a beer.

The Queenstown-based start-up had its origins in November 2015, when co-founders Mark Orr and Ross Copland were discussing the then forthcoming new health and safety legislation.

Both were from farming backgrounds and knew "paper and farming don’t mix".

"Farmers hate paper," Mr Orr said.

They were concerned about how farmers would comply with the legislation, which came into effect in April 2016.

From what was originally a "good idea", the health and safety software start-up had grown into having around 4000 users across 700 sites in New Zealand, Australia and the UK.

It was Australia and New Zealand’s fastest-scaling agricultural health and safety productivity tool, he said.

Most recently, it has received investment from SproutX, Australasia’s largest ag-tech venture capital fund.

Zero Harm Farm specialised in developing digital mobile and paperless technologies used in the agriculture, construction and general work site market.

He and Mr Copland had been working together in the ski industry, which was quite a similar industry to the agricultural sector, Mr Orr said.

It operated 24 hours a day and was dangerous with "everything that moves, every wheel that turns" potentially being able to injure people.

The statistics for fatalities and injuries in the agriculture industry spoke for themselves. It was a dangerous industry and there was a poor safety culture, he said.

Neither had a software background but they "took a punt" and found some clever people with those skills.

Zero Harm Farm offered turnkey farm safety solutions including a cloud-based safety management app, safety signs and equipment.

The app had a special focus on the management of contractors, rather than just employees, as it had proven difficult for farm or work site managers of remote or unmanned locations to share safety information with workers consistently.

Farmers regularly used contractors who often worked "outside their sphere of influence". The digital platform was a good way to deal with that.

Zero Harm Farm relished the opportunity to pitch to Melbourne-based SproutX, seeing it as a great opportunity.

The intention had always been to "go for scale" — as a digital platform could — and it wanted to have a global reach. There were the same issues whether it was "Ireland, UK or Canada", he said.

SproutX had bought into 8% of Zero Harm Farm’s valuation, opening up large distribution and investment channels across Australia.

While the company would now have a second office presence in Melbourne, it was business as usual for its development and support team in Queenstown.

The Zero Harm Farm application was launched in Australia this month during Australia’s National  Farm Safety Week.

While a digital app would not solve every problem, Mr Orr said it was a "cog in the wheel" of trying to engage more people about health and safety culture and make it easier.

He likened it to what Xero was to accounting.

"We’re the utility belt."

It was estimated  $12 billion was spent in Commonwealth countries each year on compliance management and insurance.

He enjoyed the opportunity of working with Zero Harm Farm which was an exciting and interesting trip so far — "just the fun of helping people, trying to solve a problem ... having a crack", he said.

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