Plant physiologist David Groeneveld started the Santa Fe consulting firm HydroBio 14 years ago to help farmers optimize their use of energy and water — two resources that are increasingly scarce and expensive.
Using data he collected over years as a consultant, Groeneveld devised a way — using satellite data and software-based technology — for farmers to precisely monitor and control how much water their mobile center-pivot irrigation machines emit, reducing energy and water costs and boosting yields.
Groeneveld’s trademarked innovation — Targeted Irrigation Management, or TIM — is a software program that allows a farmer to remotely direct pivot machines to follow a water schedule customized for specific crops, soils and climates.
The impact of this invention could be far-reaching in a nation where the average farm has 50 pivot machines, according to HydroBio vice president Bridget Adams. Small farms are increasingly being aggregated into agribusinesses that use large-scale crop production methods. And climate change is making the wise use of water and energy more critical than ever.
HydroBio is poised to commercialize its product by 2014 after final proof-of-concept testing in the Texas Panhandle this growing season, she said. Were it not for the involvement of Los Alamos Connect, the central economic development program of Los Alamos National Security LLC and Los Alamos National Laboratory, the project would not be this close to its market debut, she acknowledged.
A Wealth of Resources
Groeneveld and his team made use of a suite of intensive, customized business support services that Los Alamos Connect offers at no cost to qualified companies and entrepreneurs in Northern New Mexico. Besides the expert business coaching and market research assistance provided by Connect, the company received technical assistance from LANL through the New Mexico Small Business Assistance program to install cybersecurity features in its satellite communication network.
HydroBio received a $75,000 Venture Acceleration Fund award from Los Alamos Connect and pooled it with a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Small Business Innovation Research program to test the technology on thousands of acres of irrigated farm land in the Texas panhandle, according to Adams. In early June, the company received approval for the second phase of SBIR money — a $450,000 grant — to expand and complete research and development.
The market research by Connect’s Market Intelligence program helped HydroBio executives get a realistic assessment of the potential market for their product, Adams said. And the expert panelists assembled by the Springboard program to review and critique the company’s business model offered valuable feedback about HydroBio’s strategy and suggested where the company could find more funding.
“It was great to go into a room and brainstorm with people,” Adams said of the successful entrepreneurs from a variety of industries and the agricultural economist who sat on the panel. “It didn’t change our course, but it clarified our decisions about how to market and capitalize” on the product.
HydroBio, like many companies, began with a great idea. But, Adams said, “A great idea is worth nothing unless you can do something with it.”