Santa Cruz Tech Beat


HeavyConnect Builds Technology Out of Farming

By Stephanie Thara
Western Growers Association

March 17, 2016 — Salinas, CA

[Editor’s note: Santa Cruz Tech Beat profiled HeavyConnect in Ten Hot Companies to Watch in the Monterey Bay Region’s Growing Ag Tech Hub (October 1, 2015). HeavyConnect won first place in the Apps for Ag Hackathon held last weekend at Cabrillo College.]

It all started with a “How to Start a Business in 6 Weeks” course. After supporting product design development and deployment for different farm equipment manufacturers for more than a decade, Patrick Zelaya started to notice a trend. “Technologies that were being developed for the equipment weren’t solving major operational challenges for farmers,” he said.

It was at that moment that Zelaya knew he wanted to launch some type of business that would create tools to simplify field operations. In 2015, he learned about the Steinbeck Innovation FastTrac® NewVenture™ Program, which taught budding entrepreneurs how to start a business in just six weeks. The course allowed participants to explore entrepreneurship by helping them build an actionable business plan, network with successful entrepreneurs and develop a working knowledge of business fundamentals such as marketing, product/service development, management and financials.

“When I started the course, I didn’t have an idea for a business yet,” said Zelaya. “Our instructor, John Duhring, asked us to share our ideas, and the first thing that came to my mind was a mobile app that prevented tractor failures rather than reporting them. The whole concept for HeavyConnect really came about in five minutes.”

As he started to build the company, Zelaya’s focus was on driving the agriculture technology (agtech) movement to a model that focused on saving growers’ time—rather than focusing on higher profits and higher yields. His extensive career with John Deere helped him understand that farming is a 14-hour day, 7-days a week type of job. He knew that the biggest challenge for successful growers is freeing up their time.

Zelaya started to realize that what growers were hearing from tech companies was that they can achieve higher profits and higher yields, but they would have to use a considerable amount of time to monitor and analyze the hardware or software. To a grower, that sounds a lot like an extra part-time job.

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