Vineyard breakthrough wins water startup prize

Mon Mar 8, 2010 11:09am EST
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By Mary Milliken

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Web application that alerts wine grape farmers when their vines are thirsty has won first place in a competition to spur entrepreneurs in the investment-starved water sector, organizers said on Monday.

Fruition Sciences, which operates in both California and France, came first among 50 teams in Imagine H2O's global competition aimed at building a "Silicon Valley" for water.

Water is a $500 billion business worldwide, but draws a mere 0.5 to 1.0 percent of venture capital and only a handful of investments per year despite growing demand for solutions to widespread water shortages.

The prize rewards the business plans with the greatest promise of breakthroughs in the efficient use and supply of water, and Fruition was able to show significant water savings for nine California grape growers that used the monitor.

"In the water sector, most entrepreneurs want to be in every single market, but Fruition has started out with an intriguing niche market where they can polish their idea and then go broader into other agricultural markets," said Scott Bryan, director of operations for Imagine H2O, a non-profit backed by Royal Bank of Canada and PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Fruition co-founder Sebastien Payen said he saw a real challenge in the wine industry because there were "absolutely no plant-based sensors to optimize water management."

He combined his expertise in sensor and information technology with co-founder Thibaut Scholasch's research on vine water status to create the Web application.

Australia's Rainwater HOG was prize runner-up with its H2OG water tank, which collects rainwater and can be used by city dwellers who do not have much space.   Continued...

<p>A worker cuts a bunch of Sangiovese grapes during the harvest at the Biondi Santi vineyard in the Val d'Orcia close to the Tuscan town of Montalcino in central Italy, September 22, 2004. REUTERS/Max Rossi</p>