Goldfinch Solutions, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty startup company, is pioneering multispectral imaging technology to identify tender beef at the packing stage of production. It has called upon the Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC) for assistance since its founding in 2008.
“When our company first formed, we wanted to apply for a SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research program) Phase I grant,” says company President Jeyam Subbiah, Ph.D. “We worked with NBDC early on to successfully obtain this funding.”
Subbiah says Marisol Rodriguez, who was NBDC’s technology commercialization specialist at that time, provided guidance in navigating the grant application process. “We were in panic mode at the time, trying to meet USDA deadlines,” Subbiah says. “She was very helpful, even working on the weekend.”
Senior Vice President Chris Calkins, Ph.D., agrees. “With NBDC’s help, we got where we needed to be a lot faster and with a lot less stress.”
Current director of NBDC’s technology commercialization program, Wei Jing, says that since 2008, Goldfinch Solutions has received a total of $850,000 in funding from two SBIR Phase I grants, one SBIR Phase IB grant, and one SBIR Phase II grant, in addition to support from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.
Calkins says that during the Phase II application process, “Wei would have answers for us much faster that we could get ourselves. All we had to do was pick up the phone and she was there to help us plug the holes and fill in the gaps.”
Vice president for research and development, Konda Naganathan, says the multispectral imaging technology developed by Goldfinch Solutions is capable of predicting whether a piece of meat will be tender, intermediate or tough with very high accuracy. The hardware and software is not yet on the market.
The imaging system allows the user to certify the tenderness of a rib eye steak and apply that guarantee to similar cuts from same source. “That means the tenderloin, New York strip and flat iron from that same carcass would carry the same tender label,” Calkins says.
He says about 80 percent of all carcasses from fed cattle qualify for a USDA “Choice” or “Prime” rating. “With the current quality grades, it becomes an almost ‘all in one’ category,” he says. “There’s not enough distinction between the ratings.
“We feel cattle that rate ‘Choice’ also merit a tenderness guarantee. If we can screen those cattle and provide that guarantee, we believe consumers would pay a premium for that meat.”
He says that tenderness guarantee is what makes Goldfinch Solutions’ technology unique.
“For 100 years, meat scientists have been trying to figure out how to look at a cut of steak and tell if it is tender,” Calkins says, “but you can’t tell by what you see with the naked eye. With multispectral imaging, we can capture information about that steak that will identify the properties of the muscle and tell us if it is tender or not.”
Subbiah says the company continues to use NBDC as a resource.
“We have attended several NBDC programs, workshops and networking events,” he says. “Wei also invited Chris and I to speak to NBDC groups and meetings and share our SBIR experiences. It is a mutually beneficial relationship.”