Water management and irrigation are vital to the success of food crops. Watering too soon, too late, too much, or too little can directly impact the yield a farmer will harvest later in the year. Soil moisture sensors — which provide near real-time information on how dry soil is — are a common solution for this problem. However, these sensors often have to be installed and removed each year, adding unnecessary time and hassle to the agricultural cycle.
GroGuru has developed technology to make irrigation management easier and more efficient for farmers. The company has developed sensors that don’t have to be removed and reinstalled every year, as well as a set of software tools that use machine learning to help farmers gain insights into their water usage. We sat down with co-founder Patrick Henry to learn more about the company’s goals of helping farmers.
Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Can you give us a brief elevator pitch for your company?
GroGuru is all about strategic irrigation management. We help farmers make more money by increasing crop yield and more efficiently using water and other scarce resources in a more sustainable way.
What inspired you to take the leap and build this company?
I was inspired by my co-founders — Farooq Anjum, PhD, and Jeff Campbell, PhD — for wanting to do something that could help farmers in a significant way and help our planet at the same time.
What past experiences prepared you to start, build, and lead your company?
GroGuru is my fourth tech startup. I’ve had multiple exits in my prior companies, one that led to an IPO on Nasdaq that had a $1 billion valuation. Building tech businesses is in my blood.
What is your vision for the future of the industry you are operating in?
I think we are at the very early stages of what will be a multi-billion dollar market for strategic irrigation management. The global agriculture industry is worth $2.4 trillion dollars annually. There is nothing more strategic than the security of our food supply and access to clean fresh water. Life doesn’t exist without those two things! Yet, the agriculture industry has been one of the slowest adopters of digital technology. That is changing, and we are just where the market is starting to take off. As it relates to strategic irrigation management, GroGuru is right in the middle of this revolution.
Who is on your team and how did you come together?
One of my co-founders — Farooq Anjum, PhD — heads engineering and operations and is our CTO. Farooq is an expert in machine learning, wireless systems, and cyber security. My other co-founder — Jeff Campbell, PhD — is our chief scientist. Jeff is a physicist with more than 25 years of experience in soil sensor technology. He also brings expertise in near-field communication — a fundamental technology for the GroGuru WUGS, our wireless underground system. David Sloane, PhD, is our chief agronomist. David has more than 25 years of experience in irrigation agronomy, or crop science. And our head of sales, Vince Ferrante, runs our customer facing and dealer channel partner programs. Vince ran North American sales for one of my prior companies. He has tons of experience building dealer channels, running a manufacturing rep company, and driving large strategic customer engagements. The GroGuru team has the right business, technical, and market domain expertise to win in this market.
Do you have any competition, if so, how do you differentiate?
The competitive alternative in our industry uses cables from the sensors in the ground to the above ground telemetry. This means they have to be annually installed and removed in field crops like corn and soybeans, which represent 85% of the irrigated acres in the US and the vast majority of acres worldwide. Our main competitors are AquaSpy, CropX, and Hortau. The GroGuru InSites SaaS (software as a service) is a decision support system for farmers that helps them to manage irrigation most effectively and uses machine learning and AI to derive recommendations. It is available to farmers via a simple, intuitive, farmer-friendly user interface that the farmer can access on their computer, tablet or smartphone. The GroGuru system is the precursor for irrigation automation.
What does your business model look like?
GroGuru sells or leases hardware and provides a software as a service on top of that. We recently launched GroGuru InSites, our SaaS solution, on third party hardware as well. Most notably, it is available for use with both Sentek and AquaCheck soil moisture probes, both of whom are industry market leaders.
What brought you to equity crowdfunding and how do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?
We see equity crowdfunding as the democratization of angel investing. With the recent SEC rules changes, we can now raise $5 million in a RegCF offering. As VCs are moving downstream to fund more later stage deals, equity crowdfunding is a way to ‘fill the funding gap’ for earlier stage startups like GroGuru.
What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?
We have the right solution at the right time to fill a critical need for our customers, primarily farmers and agronomic consulting groups. Our system has a payback period of less than one growing season, and, with GroGuru InSites SaaS, we are able to grow even more rapidly than we did pre-Covid. We are really providing a decision support tool for farmers to grow more crops, more efficiently use water, and provide a cornerstone for sustainable agriculture with the farmers that we service. We are focused on farmers, but we also provide something that is not only good, but essential for the planet.
As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? have you set any future goals for the company?
Most successful startups, like GroGuru, exit through strategic acquisition. Historically agtech companies have been purchased by the big farm equipment and farming input companies, along with the large irrigation system companies. But I believe that the big data companies will also get more interested in agtech over time. Private equity is another potential exit along with Reg A+ or even an IPO. The market is so big and has such explosive growth potential, it is not clear what exit opportunities will make the most sense — but it is good to have options.
We at KingsCrowd are excited to see where Patrick and his team take the company. GroGuru is currently raising on StartEngine.