Smartphone Robots, Insect-Wing Wind Power, Online Video Game Tourneys & More Notes from the UW Business Plan Competition

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could allow a wheat grower to monitor the soil and ensure the best use of precious irrigation water, for instance, or save electricity by making sure cooling fans in an apple orchard are operating when they need to be.

“What we’re seeing is that if there’s a way for them to have more control, they’re going to spend the money—and they’re not afraid of technology,” says Mike Warady, a business consultant with AgComm.

Another agriculture and technology play, this time tackling the sometimes opaque and inefficient markets for crops. One of the partners in this company is a pear farmer in Wapato, WA. And when that farmer takes his fruit to the middlemen, also called fruit packers, it can be difficult to know if he’s really getting the best deal because of a lack of good information about prices.

The site already is operating with some farmers, collecting data for apple, pear and cherry growers. And PackerData technology chief Jeffrey Baker says it’s showing some major advantages for real-world growers, pointing to an example from live data on the website.

“Our fruit farmer, if they had sold their load of fruit 11 miles down the road to a different packer than they had sold it to, they would have made $40,000 instead of $25,000,” Baker says. Revenue comes from subscriptions, which start at about $100 per year for one crop, and could include advertising later.

PackerData is a utility-type service that could operate with little staffing once up to scale, since the growers are the ones entering data into the system. It’s possible to take the idea beyond just agriculture—commercial fishermen face a similar problem, but so do dentists, Baker says. And the data-sharing and processing power could go vertical in each market as well, giving the fruit packers more horsepower to get good prices from retailers. “Let’s give packers the data to fight Wal-Mart,” Baker says.

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