Business: Nanobubble Agritech
Founders: Leon Power and Lauren Oehme
What products, services, solutions or technology have you developed?
Nanobubble technology is a method for efficiently transferring high levels of gas to liquid. We have developed a unique system that allows nanobubble technology to be applied at large scale, in agriculture and horticulture – it allow farmers’ irrigation water to hold up to four times the amount of oxygen previously possible.
This nanobubble-treated water results in vastly improved plant growth and crop yields, pest and disease resistance, and water-use efficiency.
Nanobubble Agritech systems are retrofittable, able to be ‘dropped in’ to farmers’ existing irrigation systems without the need for additional/changes to pumping capacity.
WHAT KEY CUSTOMER PROBLEMS OR CUSTOMER “WANTS” DOES YOUR SOLUTION SOLVE?
Nanobubble Agritech systems result in massive crop yield gains, without any additional chemical use. With the technology we can improve water use efficiency in soil-based farming, which is critical in markets where previous available water resources are being cut back due to expanding irrigation demand and reduced water supply as a result of climate change.
Our systems are also a chemical free solution to plant health diseases associated with anaerobic soil conditions e.g. phytophthora, pythium.
Who and where are your target customers?
Medium to high value irrigated horticulture, as well as irrigated dairy and cropping farmers, in New Zealand, Australia and the United States.
How and when did you first come up with the idea for your business?
Nanobubble Agritech CEO and cofounder Leon Power first came across nanobubble technology while working for an engineering company selling the tech for wastewater and hydroponic applications. After writing his MBA thesis on the use of nanobubbles in anaerobic digestion, Leon and cofounder Lauren Oehme set out to determine whether the benefits of nanobubbles being seen in hydroponics (higher yields and plant health benefits) could be translated to soil-based growing.
Our 2021/22 on-farm trials at Massey University averaged almost double dry matter yield with the first pivot retrofit of dripline system (an additional 96%) on ryegrass over the irrigation season where the majority of rainfall was kept off (5 cuts/6 months). Trials also recorded greater yield in apples and kiwifruit. With apples, improved quality and earlier ripening were also reported.
Since those early feasibility trials, we’ve progressed to commercial scale trials, including a $1.02M partnership with Ministry of Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food Futures Fund (SFFF) with various commercial trial sites across New Zealand. This includes a first 100+ hectare pivot installation on a Canterbury dairy farm, as well as several other cropping and dairy sites over the North and South Island of NZ.
Our flagship installation in Australia has delivered game-changing results. Agronomist for citrus producers Mildura Citrus Company, Sam Bowman, says the impact of the Nanobubble Agritech system on the sections of their orchard treated has been “phenomenal” with near double the yield results within the space of one season.
What are three things about your business that you are proud of?
- Our ‘why’: we are determined to find innovate ways to feed the world’s growing population cheaper, more sustainably and without the need for chemicals. Water is the single most limiting factor in food production globally – our systems can unlock better, more efficient water use and greater production in a cost-effective, chemical free way.
- Our rapid progress on a shoestring budget: we have developed an entirely new hardware technology from alpha prototype to commercial production, in less than 3 years. This has been done on a fraction of the capital other companies have available to them. This is in large part due to our team’s willingness to come along on the lean start-up ride, working tirelessly until the job is done, as well as a Kiwi no.8 wire, build it yourself approach.
- Our “no problems, only solutions” mentality: we problem-solve. Every. Single. Day. It can be hard not to be discouraged when big issues crop up, but we try to frame these positively as interesting and challenging puzzles to be solved, rather than roadblocks or failures to dwell on.
How do you market your business and what advice do you have for others around marketing?
We are just starting out on our marketing journey, and learning lots along the way.
We love working in agriculture and horticulture, because farmers are usually willing to give new things a go, and they have strong networks to tap into; word of mouth is more powerful here than in many other industries.
Farmers trust other farmers, so our marketing strategy is around delivering value and building good relationships directly with our clients, so that they might recommend us to their neighbours or friends. Industry field days and conferences have proven invaluable for making new connections and getting in front of the most innovative farmers and orchardists.
The best advice we’ve received was from our Sprout mentor, Joe Harper: you might have a perfect product but without good marketing, you won’t sell a single unit.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in building your business so far?
Proving to people that our technology really does work; it’s hard to build trust or credibility early on when a technology is something totally new and different.
Navigating two extremely wet La Nina summers in a row has been our biggest operational challenge so far. Trying to perform irrigation trials through five summer cyclones in two years, when no one was irrigating and half of our sites were flooded out, was pretty rough!
What is the biggest entrepreneur lesson you would like to share with other Kiwis thinking of starting their own business?
Everything will take much longer and be much more expensive than you think!
You need to be in it for the ‘why’, because financial reward alone won’t give you the stamina or motivation to put in the amount of work that’s required to be a success.
Story created in partnership with Venture Taranaki.