As part of its work highlighting innovators in the dynamic tech sector in Nebraska, the Nebraska Governance and Technology Center is reaching out to regional tech leaders and organizations to ask them a few questions about their work, how they got started, and where they see their company headed in the future. Today we are featuring an interview with Marble, a technology company that leverages advancements in computer vision, robotics, and artificial intelligence to decrease labor requirements, advance worker safety, and reduce waste in meat processing.
Tell us a little about Marble and the work that you do.
Marble, founded to accelerate food system technologies for people and the planet, creates intelligent automated systems and software solutions for food processors using the latest advancements in computer vision, automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence. Focusing first on the meat industry, Marble is working to decrease labor requirements, advance worker safety, and reduce waste in meat processing. Marble takes a software-focused approach, developing the “brains” to automate tasks that require decision-making and packages these brains with equipment used in meat plants.
Re-thinking the current process and bringing the latest innovations to the meat industry requires a unique team. We’ve combined industry-recognized meat scientists with robotics, mechanical, and software engineers from industries like aeronautics, astronautics, surgical robotics, the Department of Defense, and airport security. Bringing together a variety of perspectives from both in and outside the meat industry is allowing us to bring revolutionary solutions, grounded in reality, to an industry in need of innovation.
What led you to found Marble?
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and highlighted the vulnerability of the meat supply chain to labor disruptions, we knew there was an impactful problem to be solved. After hundreds of conversations with stakeholders across the industry and visits to meat processing facilities, we recognized that labor challenges, a problem long before COVID, had reached a critical tipping point. The industry was actively seeking automation solutions, but none were available off the shelf that could handle the product variability and the cold, wet environment of a meat processing facility.
With our founding team’s experience in the Ag industry and in technology, we knew we could pull together the right team to deliver what the industry was seeking. There are endless opportunities to augment and automate tasks across food processing, particularly those tasks that are difficult, dangerous, and repetitive, and technology has advanced to a level where it’s possible. The industry is ripe for disruption, our industry relationships run deep, and processors are eager for automation - the timing has been right.
What early barriers did you face?
The meat industry is a business built on trust and relationships, and we knew it would be challenging to gain that trust early on as a new entrant. We worked very hard to build relationships, and our advisors facilitated several key introductions. Our advisors are highly respected in the industry and have wide-reaching networks. They connected us with decision-makers and industry leaders very early on, which allowed us to gain traction as quickly as we have.
What advantages or challenges does Nebraska pose for a tech firm?
Nebraska is in a fantastic location for our customer base. We are central to many of the largest meat processors in the country. In terms of tech, it’s still a challenge to recruit talent in the state. In a highly competitive job market, it can be difficult to convince applicants to move to Nebraska if they have offers in ‘trendier’ locations, and we don’t yet have a large enough local talent base to fill all the available tech jobs. We are continually looking for ways to get creative with benefits to make it more enticing to be in Nebraska, and we also take part in initiatives like the Nebraska Tech Collaborative, a group that’s working to build a world-class tech ecosystem in Nebraska.
Where do you see Marble heading over the next five to ten years?
The next five years are going to be incredibly exciting for Marble. We will be commercializing our first product in the next year, scaling the team, and developing additional automation solutions for meat processing and adjacent industries like secondary processing and food service. There’s so much opportunity, and we are thrilled to be at the forefront of bringing high-tech, next-generation automation to the food processing space.