Startup Profile: Smartphone App Increases Yields and Sustains Agriculture
May 4, 2011 | Jeremy Ogul
In fact, there’s an entire system – including a smartphone application – developed by ClimateMinder, a Glendale, California based startup company, that enables growers to wirelessly monitor environmental conditions in both greenhouses and open fields.
ClimateMinder is the brainchild of Bulut Ersavas, who identified a need and an opportunity for a cost effective wireless climate monitoring systems for agriculture while helping out an MBA classmate who was managing a greenhouse construction project. Ersavas, an electrical engineer by training, came up with a solution that involved placing smart wireless sensors in the greenhouse that improved the efficiency and sustainability of the operation. Thus, ClimateMinder™ was born.
Today, according to Ersavas, hundreds of growers in California and Turkey currently use ClimateMinder™ technology to improve the sustainability and efficiency of their operations. Ersavas said one grower, who wishes to remain nameless, “found a 20 percent increase in yield on a test plot using ClimateMinder™. “Others see improvements as well, but not everybody quantifies it,” he said. “We are working with Fresno State University to have some research results soon.”
How ClimateMinder™ Works
The ClimateMinder™ system uses smart sensors installed in a greenhouse or open field to capture real-time data on temperature, humidity, soil moisture, solar radiation, leaf wetness and other variables. Using cellular networks, these smart sensors transmit this data to a central server, which in turn sends an alert to a grower’s cellphone and computer. The grower can then use the soil profiling, microclimate measurement, and disease condition data received via the alerts to increase the efficiency of their water usage and address adverse climate conditions that might otherwise lead to disease or damage by pests or mildew.
When it comes to greenhouses, ClimateMinder’s data gathering and alert system can be integrated with existing components and systems within the greenhouse to allow the grower the ability to wirelessly control vents, fans, curtains, heating, irrigation, and other growing systems.
ClimateMinder’s smart sensor hardware is powered by batteries or solar cells (optional) and is optimized for low power operation. The technology requires little information technology know-how on the part of the grower, as the ClimateMinder™ system’s smart sensors are ‘self-configuring.’ Essentially, once you switch on a sensor in the field or greenhouse, it automatically introduces itself to the network and begins sending data. The sensors are also ‘self-healing’ so, for example, if one sensor goes down the system knows to reroute the data through other pathways and notify system administrators. Software data and alert history can also be downloaded, allowing farmers to analyze long-term trends and keep detailed records.
ClimateMinder makes money by selling hardware (sensors and control nodes to route data from the sensors to the ClimateMinder server) and associated subscription services that include cellular data transfer, web hosting and access, use of the mobile application, front-end software upgrades, maintenance and software support.
The amount of hardware necessary to effectively monitor a greenhouse or field depends on the size of the growing area that is being monitored. The cost of the associated subscription services depends on how much hardware is installed. Clients who would prefer not to purchase the hardware have the option of leasing it.
Challenges to Scaling the Business
One of the biggest challenges that ClimateMinder faces is getting farmers and ranchers on board. “This is a very new product,” Ersavas said. “Most of the growers are new to adopting this kind of technology. It’s a new category in the market.”
ClimateMinder’s strategy to overcome this hurdle is to develop marketing channels through irrigation distributors who have existing working relationships with growers. According to Ersavas, the company currently targets California growers of high-value crops such as berries and grapes, as they tend to have more to gain financially from ClimateMinder’s technology.
As the market for wirelessly controlled climate monitoring systems for agriculture is in its nascent stages, ClimateMinder has very few competitors. Two companies in the marketplace working on similar technologies include: Absolute Automation, which offers wireless greenhouse monitoring products; and Nano Ganesh, a company based in India, which sells wireless automation products to help rural farmers manage irrigation systems.
Ersavas said ClimateMinder’s main competitive advantage is its simplicity for the user. “The mobile and web software is designed for easy use, where critical information is presented to the user in the most simplistic way, in a summary and graphic style, to minimize up-front training and save daily usage time for the grower,” he said. “Portability in the form of a mobile application is a feature most other systems don’t have.”
Another advantage, according to Ersavas, is flexibility – the system can be customized and easily adjusted to meet user needs. “Wireless mesh radio technology and system software architecture allows ultimate flexibility to easily add new stations and sensors to the network and reposition existing stations seamlessly.” ClimateMinder’s system is further strengthened through technology partnerships with Intel, Ericcson and TurkCell.
At the same time as ClimateMinder works to expand its customer base, it is also working to raise funds to finance further product development. According to an October 2010 regulatory filing, ClimateMinder has raised $380,000, part of a $500,000 funding round.
“Our vision is that the technology will become a fundamental part of the growers’ business life,” Ersavas said. “Our goal is to change the way that the agricultural operations are making profits.”