Des Moines lands on under-the-radar tech hub list

If you have yet to connect with Des Moines technology and startup scene, you might want to get on that.

The metro area was named as one of the top five under-the-radar tech hubs in the U.S. by SpareFoot, an online marketplace for storage containers.

Only Boise, Idaho, topped Des Moines on the list, which was compiled by the Austin, Texas,-based tech startup.

Mike Colwell of the Business Innovation Zone in Des Moines was quoted in the piece, saying the startup ecosystem was strong and highlighting some of the upcoming initiatives that aim to enhance startups in Iowa even more.

Colwell included Technology Association of Iowa’s Pitch and Grow, Plains Angels investment group and the area’s 1 Million Cups program, among others.

The piece on the SpareFoot website pointed out the presence of Meredith Corp. and Wells Fargo, while reminding readers that the city has been named on to several lists during the past year.

Dwolla, Social Money and ScoutPro were singled out as tech startup stars.

Little Rock, Ark., Baton Rouge, La., and Portland, Maine, rounded out the top five.

App makes scouting made simple

If you’re tired of jamming crumpled and coffee-stained field-scouting notes into an easily forgotten binder, three Iowa State University (ISU) students have a better idea.
Michael Koenig, Stuart McCulloh, and Holden Nyhus have developed the ScoutPro mobile app for scouting corn and soybeans. The app can be used on Apple’s iPhone and Android and Apple tablets, including Apple’s second-generation iPad and iPad mini. The trio is marketing the app through ScoutPro, a business they started with assistance from ISU’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative.

The app originated from Koenig’s crop-scouting experiences with handwritten notes and paper files.
“Lots of times, these files would be put in binders with 500 pages, placed in a file cabinet, and never looked at again,” says Koenig, the firm’s president and chief executive officer. “We wanted to make scouting information more transferable and valuable.”
The app aims to do this through components including these two features:
1. An identification process for field pests. ScoutPro has teamed with universities and other firms to compile crop, disease, weed, and insect photos on the app. Accompanying these photos is information about pest background, life cycles, and treatment thresholds.
“It’s tough to tell anyone what 30% defoliation or silk clipping due to Japanese beetles looks like,” says McCulloh. “But we can use these pictures to show you what is happening.”
2. Automatic georeferencing of field conditions and pest levels. You can drop a georeferenced pin at your current location within a field. You can then make notes on crop condition, plant populations, pest pressure, yield estimates, and other factors at each pin for your future reference. You can generate reports and email them from the field.
The app also features a website function that enables you to:
» Synchronize scouting reports to a home computer.
» Archive reports for reference in future crop years.
» Provide interactive reports.
What’s coming up
Last year’s pilot season had 32 companies and 600 users utilizing the app, with more growth anticipated for 2013. Plans are to develop a wheat app and one to aid pesticide applicators in record keeping. ScoutPro has formed partnerships with firms like Greenbook Data Solutions to compile a product label database.
Costs vary, depending on services. There is a base activation fee, with additional fees dependent on the number of users registered, crop and user versions, and information management capacities.
Ease of use was on the minds of the trio when they designed the app. “We wanted to build something that is easy to learn and doesn’t take eight hours of training,” says Koenig. “That’s another reason we went with tablets. They’re easy to take with you and easy to use.”

Improve Your Crop Scouting- Corn & Soybean Digest

A new iPad/Android tablet app offers a comprehensive approach to corn and soybean crop scouting, management and recordkeeping. So says Michael Koenig, who co-founded ScoutPro with Stuart McCulloh and Holden Nyhus through Iowa State University’s (ISU) Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative. Tap into university Extension photo references like ISU’s Weed Identification Field Guide to identify weeds, insects and diseases in the field. A click to save each pest identification uploads the information to create a report and puts GPS coordinates on the map, making it easier to locate and manage the problem.

ScoutPro will add files to create field-specific reports without the need to re-enter information.

“If you’re not sure of the pest ID, you can take a picture with the app and send it to a consultant for confirmation,” says Koenig. “Back in the office, you can pull up the full scouting report to add details, or you can e-mail reports from the field.”

Originally designed so that commercial scouting services could aggregate data from multiple scouting sites, ScoutPro also offers a farmer version.

“It’s easier than sifting through a bunch of pocket manuals,” Koenig says.

At Co-Alliance, Ag Technology Manager Luke Lightfoot says the company’s scouts liked ScoutPro in trials during 2012. “It was very user-friendly, especially for the app worked well for veteran and new scouts. Our advanced scouts also liked it because of the data entry,” Lightfoot says.

“We have 26 agronomy facilities in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, so we wanted a standardized program that allowed us to manage our scouting teams and the collected data from one location.”

In December, Co-Alliance adopted ScoutPro company-wide.

“We’re seeing more demand for scouting because of the increase in crop values,” says Lightfoot. “Farmers liked the quick response with ScoutPro because a lot of what the scouts find needs to be addressed quickly.

“The biggest advantage with this app is the farmer can log onto the email system and see what’s going on in his fields now, versus looking at the combine’s yield map, scratching his head, and wondering why he’s got a 20-bu. loss in a field.”

ScoutPro is continuing to expand the app’s uses. It now includes information for Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Nebraska is being added.

“As we expand and get the corn and soybeans sections right, we’re moving on to other crops. We’re looking at wheat and small grains,” Koenig reports. “We’re looking at collecting multiple years of data so you can see how fields are trending. That’s going to be especially important in corn-on-corn production.”

This year, the company plans to add chemical reference data from Greenbook Data Solutions and is considering adding irrigation reference information.

Class project turned app aims to revolutionize crop scouting

Historically, if farmers wanted to check their crops for insects or disease, it was a tedious, inaccurate process. They would carry a couple of guidebooks, hundreds of pages each, to try and identify what they saw, recording observations with handwritten notes and sketches of the field.

After completing a crop scouting internship in rural Iowa, Michael Koenig (left) decided to change that.

“Crop scouting is kind of cumbersome, and just not fun,” Koenig said, “we wanted to make the process a little easier to manage.”

ScoutPro, the website and app Koenig and his team created, is being beta tested this season in seven Midwestern states, including Iowa and Nebraska.

The senior in agriculture education at Iowa State University first pitched the idea as part of an agricultural entrepreneurship class in the fall of 2010. When he won the in-class competition, he was encouraged to keep going.

“Ideas are many, but those who can execute the idea are few,” said Kevin Kimle, director of the agriculture entrepreneurship institute at Iowa State and Koenig’s former professor, praising the students’ determination. “They are on the front edge of innovation on the whole agriculture-GPS sphere.”

Two of Koenig’s competitors in the entrepreneurship class, Holden Nyhus and Stuart McCulloh, would later join his team as vice president of research and development and vice president of sales, respectively, along with a chief creative officer and chief technology officer. Koenig said his team has been putting full-time hours into the project, but working around class schedules and other committments.