Shark Tank Winner: FloraPulse – Michael Santiago MechE PhD

Below are comments from Michael Santiago:

BluePulze-17-e1424281198997Who is the executive team of FloraPulse?

FloraPulse has one student (myself) and two Cornell faculty who are scientific advisors.
Michael Santiago (CEO/CTO)
Abraham D. Stroock (scientific advisor)
Alan N. Lakso (scientific advisor)

What is FloraPulse?

FloraPulse makes water-stress sensors that, in layman’s terms, measure how thirsty a plant is. We measure a plant’s pulse so to speak.

Why is it valuable or interesting?

This technology is exciting to plant scientists and growers for the same reason: there exists no simple way to measure plant-thirst until now. Researchers have a new tool to better understand plants, and growers can use the plant-thirst information to save water and improve produce quality. We are specifically targeting vineyards since the quality of wine is highly dependent on the water-stress of the vine that produced the grapes.

When was Flora Pulse created?

The Stroock research group has worked on the water-stress sensor for over 5 years now. We had ideas of where this could go commercially, but only in September of 2014 did we seriously consider building a business around it.

What do you think about the entrepreneurship community at Cornell?

I discovered this community not so long ago and so far it’s been great. We Cornell students have access to so many resources, and extremely successful people who are always glad to help. I was surprised to casually chat with entrepreneurs who have raised over $100M, or investors who manage 9-figure funds. Entrepreneurial students are always enthusiastic and insanely smart so they’re a great crowd to hang around with.

What is your favorite entrepreneurship resource at Cornell? ie: Popshop, eLab, professors, etc.

The ELAB program and mentors have been terrific. I found many great resources at the McGovern center as well.

How did you get involved in the Johnson Shark Tank Event?

As part of ELAB, all the teams were encouraged to participate and ‘hone the pitch’. Plus, as a Mechanical Engineering PhD student, I’d like as much practice as I can get in building a business plan.

Congrats on winning! How do you plan to use the Shark Tank grant?

$1500 doesn’t go very far in MEMS fabrication, so we will use these funds to travel to California and meet with vineyard managers there to better understand what they need and how we can help them. Classic customer development. Often overlooked, but vitally important.

Have you had any additional funding? If so, how have you put those fund to use?

The water-stress sensors are part of my PhD thesis, so right now the research that goes into them is funded by grants from the USDA and NSF. No other funding (yet) but we’re looking into that.

What are the next steps for Flora Pulse?

Right now we have laboratory prototypes of the water-stress sensor. The next steps are to fine-tune the sensor to take measurements in the field, beta-test this technology with plant scientists worldwide, and then roll-out an early commercial product by the end of this year.
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J O H N S O N    S H A R K    T A N K    2 0 1 5

5 Pitches
3 VC Judges
1 Winner $1500
& ticket to SXSW Interactive

T H E    P I T C H E S

SALT  | Fon Powell, Biomedical PhD, Weill Cornell
NTi TECHNOLOGY | Shane Heil ChemE BS ’16, Kevin Hung BS ChemE ’15, Xiaolu Wen BS ChemE ’16
FLORA PULSE | Michael Santiago MechE PhD
ARCTYC INNOVATIONS  | Willie Mendelson MEng ’15, Bryan Dunn Hotel ’14
RIGHT PRICE MANAGEMENT LLC | Rebecca Robinson MBA ’15, Derek Mayer MBA ’15
PRODUCE PAY | Pablo Borquez MBA ’15 [Winner of Shark Tank NYC]*Ineligible to win this event

T H E    J U D G E S

ANDREESSEN HOROWITZ | Malinka Walaliyadde
CAYUGA VENTURE FUND | Jennifer Tegan
CHI FAN GROUP LLC | Caleb Cheng