In my last two columns I explained some of my past entrepreneurial adventures. In this column I'll explain my current adventure. Entrepreneurship and engineering meets . gardening?
One afternoon in the fall of 2011 I met some friends for supper on the University of Illinois campus. As we ate, one of my friends named Eduardo explained to us that he and his wife were having trouble keeping their house plants alive. They had received a basil plant from his father-in-law when they moved to Champaign and it died within a couple weeks. Eduardo didn't know much about basil plants but guessed that he wasn't watering enough. So they bought another basil plant, and Eduardo tried to water more often. Unfortunately, the more he watered, the worse the plant looked. He figured there must be a way to measure if a plant needs water or not. And he was right; some hardware stores carry a soil moisture meter, which is a device that measures and reports the amount of moisture in the soil. Eduardo bought one of these and stuck it next to his basil plant. The soil moisture meter was sort of helpful - the meter reported a number, but Eduardo didn't really know what the number meant. He just wanted to know if he should water or not.
Eduardo started looking online for something that would simply tell him if his basil needed water. After doing some research, he discovered that no such solution existed. So Eduardo asked us if we wanted to help him build a device that could tell people if their plant was thirsty. We all thought it sounded like a fun project that would be really useful for a variety of people, so we agreed to give it a try.
Our group of five friends spent a lot of our free time over the next year and a half building a system that would tell users if they need to water their plant. We call our solution Plant Link. We even added some fun features, like the ability to receive an email or text message when a plant is thirsty. ("Hey Austin, it's me, your basil plant. I'm thirsty!"). We have gotten a lot of good feedback from people who want to buy our solution, so we created a company called Oso Technologies. Check out our website at www.oso.tc. You can find pictures and other information on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OsoTechnologies.
If you read this between Jan. 4 and Feb. 3, 2013, go to www.kickstarter.com and search for "Plant Link". Beginning on Jan. 4 at 12 p.m. CST, we'll be running a Kickstarter campaign for 30 days to raise money to manufacture Plant Link. People who financially support our cause will in return be the first to receive a Plant Link system. And even if you aren't interested, visit our page to watch the video - you'll see me for a couple of seconds.
We have had a lot of fun building Plant Link and can't wait to manufacture it and get it in the hands of people who want to be smarter gardeners. I'm especially excited about another feature we recently developed for Plant Link that I call the "smart valve." It's a valve that you attach between your hose and sprinkler system that allows Plant Link to turn your sprinklers on and off for you. The idea here is that Plant Link can not only tell you when you need to water, but it can go ahead and water for you. How awesome is that?
From teaching guitar lessons to creating Plant Link, my entrepreneurship journey has been fun and rewarding. I've made many friends, solved interesting technical challenges, and developed a better understanding of how businesses work. If our Kickstarter campaign is successful, I'll have the joy of knowing that many people are using a product that I helped conceive and build.
Entrepreneurship is exciting. Who knows what the future will bring?
If you'd like to donate to this neat and worthwhile project, please visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/1387729422/plant-link-listen-to-your-plants