August 19, 2019
Our love of ice cream, cheese, yogurt, and butter makes dairy a 50 billion-dollar industry in the United States. And, farmers in the U.S. have increased their production by 13 percent in the last ten years, according to the Department of Agriculture.
It is estimated that illnesses in dairy cow herds cost farmers more than $2 billion annually in the U.S. A startup led by alumnus Chuck Stormon ’83, G’86 has a solution that could revolutionize the industry. The company, Acumen Detection, has created technology that allows dairy farmers to definitively detect contagious pathogens in their herds earlier, and more accurately, than ever before, allowing them to improve the health of their cows and helping them optimize their milk production. Farmers use this data to prevent disease outbreaks, rather than just treating them when they arise.
Years before Stormon had any inclinations to serve dairy farmers, he was mastering computer engineering at Syracuse University. He earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree and had started his Ph.D. course work when his entrepreneurial side took over. He halted work on his Ph.D. and started a company based on an artificial intelligence chip that he had designed in grad school. It was the first of six successful companies that he cofounded. Stormon also established a venture fund for seed-stage startups.
His wealth of experience ultimately led him to his current position as CEO of Acumen, which indirectly brought him full-circle back to the College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS). Acumen’s headquarters are in the Syracuse Center of Excellence (CoE) alongside many of the college’s research labs and industry partners. Professor Edward A. Bogucz, a former dean of the college, is the founding executive director of the CoE. Another former ECS dean, Professor Laura Steinberg, will step in as the CoE’s interim executive director when Bogucz returns to the ECS faculty this fall. Acumen also has lab space in Upstate Medical University’s Central New York (CNY) Biotech Accelerator, whose proximity and partnership with the CoE form the CNY Innovation Crossroads.
Acumen Detection’s products, the Acu-POLARIS system and assays, use “real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology” to identify Mycoplasma and other mastitis-causing pathogens by analyzing their DNA in just three hours. Anyone can efficiently operate the system right at the farm—no chemistry degree required. The system’s software guides through each step in the process.
On the same day that farmer identifies a pathogen, they can begin to treat the sick cow saving countless lost hours and gallons of wasted milk. Other solutions require farmers to send samples to a lab to identify the pathogens, adding days or weeks to the process.
“Illnesses can spread rapidly through a herd,” says Stormon. “With our product, a farmer can detect the contagion before a cow begins to show symptoms and isolate the infection there.”
Chris Terra, the general manager of RedTop Jerseys in Chowchilla, California, is a current Acumen customer. He says, “In our 6,000-head Jersey herd, we test 150 to 200 cows a week for Mycoplasma and Prototheca with the Acumen Detection system. We run composite samples from up to five cows on one test, and if one comes up positive, we just re-run the test for each cow. We act fast because in a herd this size, one or two Mycoplasma cases could turn into 20 or 40. With Acumen, we are able to learn in three hours what used to take seven days. This makes it easier to stop outbreaks and prevent positive cows from contaminating the herd.”
To date, Acumen serves dozens of farms, vets and milk labs throughout the U.S. and Canada. Stormon is confident that number will continue to grow as farmers learn about Acumen’s groundbreaking technology. Their detection system and assays are currently available through various dairy distributors. To learn more about Acumen, visit acumendetection.com.
Stormon credits his experiences at Syracuse University with setting him on the successful career trajectory that he enjoys today. As a student, he was mentored by Professor and Dean Emeritus Brad Strait ’58, G’60, G’65, who taught him about the importance of win-win partnerships between researchers and industry through the Center for Advanced Systems and Engineering at Syracuse University. CASE’s mission inspired Stormon and Strait’s support was formative for him as a young entrepreneur.
He says, “I think Syracuse University does great work in the area of entrepreneurship. CASE helped me on my entrepreneurial journey and now new activities around entrepreneurship, like the Blackstone Launchpad and the [email protected] invention accelerators, carry on in that tradition. Entrepreneurship is an important part of any effective education ecosystem, and Syracuse University has properly made it central to their mission. I’m proud to live and work in a community of committed individuals who give of themselves daily to pay-it-forward and create the entrepreneurial ecosystem we enjoy today.”