Calgary startup Provision Analytics says its revenue has grown nearly twentyfold this year, as food producers sign up for its new COVID-19 symptom tracking software amid efforts to keep employees safe and mitigate disruptions.
The two-year-old company also graduated last week from the new pandemic recovery stream of the University of Toronto’s renowned Creative Destruction Lab entrepreneurship program, called CDL Recovery.
Provision’s new pandemic-specific software, called Basecase, requires food production workers to fill out digital forms monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms and any potential exposure before arriving at work each day. Only once these forms are filled out do employees receive a unique access code, by e-mail or text message, that lets them enter the facility that day.
Companies across the country are trying to figure out the safest way to return to normal operations as the pandemic stretches into its sixth month – and, in the case of in-person operations like food producers, ensure their staff stays healthy. Many, in turn, are trying to figure out the safest and most secure method to monitor for symptoms in a systemic way.
“If you have a widespread shutdown in a food-processing plant because of an outbreak, not only is it a massive financial hit to your organization, you might actually have empty shelves in grocery stores,” said Mark Cunningham, a serial entrepreneur and CDL adviser who worked closely with Provision. “… What Provision is really helping with is easing peoples’ fear, uncertainty and doubt.”
Provision says its software allows staff to track data by the hour, allowing for early detection of COVID-19 symptoms to minimize transmission of the disease – with the aim of making staff feel more comfortable at work while minimizing the risk of hurting food supply. Its customers include Centennial Foodservice, a division of Premium Brands Holdings Corp. that distributes meat and seafood products across the country.
“The goal here is to respond to symptoms early instead of responding to outbreaks late,” said Kevin Davies, Provision’s chief marketing officer, who designed Basecase.
Provision’s founders, who include chief executive Erik Westblom, product vice-president Michael Gibbons and chief technology officer Chris Elias, launched the company as they sought ways to make food supply chains more efficient – including how food is farmed, produced, stored and transported. They explored ideas as part of a food waste reduction startup program run by multinational logistics and shipping company Maersk in Copenhagen in 2018.
The company soon launched eponymous software that tracks information along food supply chains, from farming and production to storage and transportation, to monitor quality and ensure safety compliance. Many of the organizations along these chains still use paper and spreadsheets to track information, with little information sharing.
Traditional paperwork can make it difficult to trace problems back to their root causes, such as when food products are recalled because of the presence of dangerous bacteria. “This gives us an immense opportunity to digitize and change that industry – and something like COVID gives a real spotlight,” Mr. Westblom said. Clients of the standard Provision software include VersaCold, one of Canada’s most prominent supply chain companies focused on storing and transporting temperature-sensitive foods.
The dangers of COVID-19 to food producers became highly visible in Alberta in the early months of the pandemic, when one of the biggest outbreaks in North America struck a Cargill Ltd. meat-processing plant near High River.
Although some companies began tracking employees for symptoms during the pandemic, staff at Provision realized they could retool the employee management portion of its software to streamline the process and catch infections quickly. After conversations with some hardware manufacturers, Mr. Davies said, Provision realized that requiring access codes would help mitigate symptomatic people from entering production facilities.
Through the CDL Recovery program, announced in April, Provision’s staff worked to tailor the product to this new potential market.
Provision announced in April that it had raised $3.2-million in seed financing, led by the California venture capital firm Builders VC with contributions from investors affiliated with CDL as well as Edmonton’s TrustBIX Inc., which does similar work with food supply chains.
TrustBIX brought with it a network of contacts in the food production industry, and helped connect Provision with Centennial Foodservice, and is helping Centennial roll out 775 Basecase licences to track employees as well as inspectors, clients and other guests across 14 facilities. (A Centennial representative was not available for comment.)
Trevor Gartner, TrustBIX’s chief operating officer, said his staff had been conducting significant research into how its clients could best comply with health regulations and reduce the coronavirus’s spread in food production. Some were as simple to implement as physical distancing and shift staggering. But Mr. Gartner said Provision has come up with a solution to the problem the market struggled with most: screening employees and monitoring for trends.
“Unless you record or aggregate data, you can’t see trends,” Mr. Gartner said. “That was the remaining piece that nobody had resolved yet.”
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