Pedro Mastrángelo, CEO of SIS Frost Protection, Montevideo, Uruguay, spoke at the Center for Science, Technology and Society on January 29, 2007. He arrived in the state as one of the worst frosts was affecting fruit crops around the state. His firm had won a Tech Museum award in 2004 in the environmental category. Here is a short video showing the field installation
He presented the technology of his system which makes use of vertical fans housed in round metal or concrete chambers and placed in the lower colder areas of an orchard or vineyard. He showed how this was a much more economical method of frost protection compared to the other main methods: burning smudge pots, using sprinklers and water, or the wind machines that are an older and more costly technology. He showed a chart with the different clients in New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, and a vineyard in Napa valley (where land prices are in the stratosphere as are premium grape prices.) The last client does not have to spend that much money to have an immediate savings because his commodity is expensive, but the apple coop in South Africa has less income and so the payback period on their investment in this technology is longer. I wondered what led the South Africans to buy his product, given this factor and the distance between buyer and seller. SIS is a very small firm with not a great income but a good product. Mastrángelo showed how they might grow over the years with and without venture capital.
While he discussed the intellectual property (patents) and what one audience member termed defensible assets, he also said that he was able to do more business in America because of the freely available GIS info (as well as other geodata) compared to other countries without a tradition of making this primary material available to researchers and entrepreneurs.
The assembled faculty from business and engineering as well as GSBI mentors asked some questions and suggested other ways his firm might scale up. I gave him a couple of reports on geo-spatial developments and an article on Intel's Place Lab where they have worked on sensors placed in cool weather vineyards.