STARTUP PROFILE - SWIIM: A Solution for Water-Starved States
Posted on March 09, 2017 16:15 PM by sthara
SWIIM’s story begins seven years ago when an entrepreneur, scientist, engineer and businessman came together and conceptualized the idea for a technological solution that would help manage water use more efficiently.
“When we started in late 2009, the concept of ‘AgTech’ didn’t really exist yet so when we were pitching our idea, people thought we were nuts,” said SWIIM CEO Kevin France.
This development-stage company, which began in the basement of a small home in Colorado with zero dollars in the bank, has now flourished into a thriving business that has raised more than $5.7 million and its SWIIM® Certification package is now being deployed on thousands of acres in California, Colorado and Arizona.
How it Works
SWIIM (or Sustainable Water and Innovative Irrigation Management) offers a suite of software packages and service offerings that enable farmers, ranchers, municipalities, businesses and conservation groups to plan, manage and track their crop-water budget. SWIIM makes the argument that most growers spend significant time and resources managing their finances with accountants, CPAs and detailed reporting to know where every dollar is spent on their operations. They suggest that growers also utilize resources to plan, manage and account for their water allocation—especially these days. SWIIM claims to accomplish this on a near-real-time basis, with comprehensive planning and reporting tools.
One of the potential outcomes of using SWIIM is leasing (or otherwise being compensated for) a portion of participating growers’ conserved water, to be used by others without damaging the underlying right or allocation. SWIIM’s turn-key solution allows it to act as its client’s on-farm water accountant, allowing agricultural water users to optimize water rights, monitor the crop water budget, conserve water and increase net income for agricultural operations.
The planner package helps farmers, ranchers and irrigators evaluate farm income and water use, while the manager package enables ditch companies, irrigation districts and water/river system managers to generate water use reports. These reports aid the growers themselves, regulatory and other agencies in monitoring, managing and optimizing modified water use practices.
With the easy-to-navigate technology, water use is tracked on the farm (and will send off an “alarm” if a user is going outside the projected/approved water usage), inputted into the SWIIM System and the data is sent to individual growers and the respective district in the aggregate for monitoring and reporting. Owners are afforded the opportunity to increase income by leasing a portion of their consumptive use water rights to municipalities, private industry and conservation groups, without compromising underlying water right.
“The unique thing about SWIIM is that we are a team of ag people who are all about water. We all have agricultural backgrounds so we understand the sociology of farming and the obstacles farmers face. Unlike most tech companies, we aren’t coding folk, we are ag folk,” said France. He speaks about how SWIIM is dedicated to being on-farm water experts, guiding and tracking the entire process—from the time the water leaves the irrigation district, to the time it gets to the head gate, all the way until it gets to the grower’s hands and onto the fields.
The Power of Partnerships
Like Rome, SWIIM wasn’t built in a day. It took years of testing out on the field and in the lab. “To develop something like this takes a lot of time and resources. We worked with researchers, ag economists, agronomists, water engineers, geologists, you name it,” France said.
The technology package was developed alongside the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Colorado State University and Utah State University for more than six years. Their scientists played a key role in conducting innovative research that focused on farm optimization and water conservation. PhD dissertations and Master’s theses have been written on the science behind the technology, further validating SWIIM as an efficient and profitable solution for fresh water stakeholders.
SWIIM’s technology is especially important in water-starved states like California and the firm has developed a partnership with Western Growers to help farmers conserve more water and simultaneously earn money for the water they don’t use.
“The fact that SWIIM was built on a grower-centric model and Western Growers’ mission being 100 percent grower-based makes the synergy between our two organizations incredibly strong,” stated France. “Western Growers has helped us identify the most arid regions so that we can go in and deploy technologies that will assist farmers in boosting their production.”
SWIIM’s growth has exploded in the past several months and France attributes the success to not only the company’s own sales and marketing team, but to the support and guidance Western Growers has provided SWIIM in the past year. France notes that having Western Growers as an advocate and partner has truly set the company apart.
“Key Western Growers staff, and especially Western Growers members themselves, have provided invaluable input on how we can start offering our package to all types of growers to benefit more of the industry,” said France. Currently, SWIIM’s technology is being implemented by farmers who own large acres of land. The company hopes to get in a position where they can provide the technology to those who grow on smaller acres. “We want SWIIM to be in the hands of anyone who wants it,” he added.
Expanding the AgTech Space
SWIIM is the latest company to join Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology in Salinas, Calif. Based in Colorado, the company is looking forward to having a strong presence in the “salad bowl of the world” and collaborating with other innovators to learn how agtech companies can work together to further advance agriculture.
“Agriculture has been using the same tools for many decades. We are proud to be part of the effort that will bring new technology to the valley,” comments France. As a veteran in the agtech innovation space, SWIIM hopes to provide support to new companies just starting to explore the agtech industry, just as Western Growers has done for SWIIM.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure collaborating with Western Growers and working alongside key members of the WG family to fight the good fight,” said France.
Editor's Note: This article was included in WG&S Magazine in October 2016.