Oso Technologies prepping product for delivery
CHAMPAIGN — Oso Technologies has won plenty of acclaim for its idea of a system that monitors how much water your lawn, garden or houseplant needs.
Now it's time to provide the actual product to customers.
For the last couple weeks, the company's five full-time employees have been programming PlantLink base stations and links in their office in downtown Champaign.
They've also been packaging the systems for shipment to a distribution center in California, which in turn will send the products to supporters of PlantLink's successful Kickstarter campaign.
That campaign, which sought to raise $75,000 to get PlantLink off the ground, easily topped its goal, generating $96,690 within a month.
As part of that campaign, Oso Technologies promised PlantLink systems to people who pledged at certain levels. Soon those supporters will be able to put PlantLink to the test.
Users will put the two-pronged links into soil near plants they're trying to grow. They'll specify the type of plants at PlantLink's website. The links measure how much moisture is in the soil and report that to PlantLink through a base station. Then, PlantLink will notify the grower by email, text message or mobile push notification when to water the plant.
Eduardo Torrealba, the CEO of Oso Technologies, said the Kickstarter campaign attracted nearly 900 supporters, two-thirds of them in North America.
"Most of our customers are just getting into gardening," he said. "They don't have a lot of experience. We give them the information they need to care for their plants."
Oso is also taking orders for PlantLink at myplantlink.com, selling a base station and link for $79 (plus $5.99 shipping to U.S. destinations) and additional links for $35 each. Pre-orders are also being taken at grandst.com/beta/myplantlink.
It will take another manufacturing run, expected to take four weeks, before Oso can begin filling those orders, Torrealba said.
About 50 percent of the company's customers learned of PlantLink through the Kickstarter campaign, he said, and others found out through social media, blog posts and other media coverage.
PlantLink got favorable mentions on two technology sites, Cnet and Gizmodo, last fall, with the Cnet reviewer calling PlantLink's expandable nature "appealing" and saying the system "gives a lot of bang for your buck."
Torrealba said international orders for PlantLink are expected to be filled later, after U.S. orders are sent. PlantLink also plans to sell "smart valves" that can automatically water plants, but the valves are not yet ready to ship.
The genesis of PlantLink came in the fall of 2011 when Torrealba got the inspiration for it and he and friends from graduate school built prototypes.
During the spring of 2012, they talked with potential customers, and that summer they built a beta version. During the fall, they put together the Kickstarter campaign, which launched in January 2013.
Though the spring and summer of 2013, the colleagues developed the device, tested it and came up with the design. In the fall, they arranged for the manufacture of it.
Along the way, they picked up a number of awards including:
— Best Mobile Application in the 2012 Cozad New Venture Competition.
— Student Startup Award in the 2013 Innovation Celebration.
— The 2013 Lemelson-Illinois Student Prize for Innovation, which carried a $30,000 award.
The co-founders of Oso — Torrealba, Trevor Hutchins and Michael Clemenson — picked up investors over time, including Serra Ventures, IllinoisVentures and some "angel investors."
The company worked out manufacturing arrangements with central Illinois firms, including Plastic Designs Inc. in Paxton and ACC Electronix in Normal, and relied on David Iffland of Heavy Code in Savoy for Web development services.
Later this year, Torrealba said, Oso Technologies will look at extending its technology to serve prospective customers in commercial landscaping and commercial agriculture.
"It's been exciting to grow the team, add to the group and ship out product," he said.
Torrealba, Hutchins and Clemenson are all pursuing doctorates at the University of Illinois, but Torrealba and Hutchins have taken leaves of absence from the program to get PlantLink off the ground.