UNL graduate student Jackson Stansell is in Denver today with technology designed to help maximize farmers’ bottom lines.
Stansell, founder and chief executive officer of Sentinel Fertigation, was selected to join the highly competitive Destination Startup, a collaboration among leading research universities and federal laboratories across the Intermountain West to showcase the best companies in the innovation ecosystem.
The showcase will be held today —Thursday, Feb.16 — at the Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center Hotel in Denver. Hundreds of investors from throughout North America are examining technology from a variety of institutions — including the Universities of Nebraska, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — at the event.
Sentinel Fertigation turns aerial imagery of crops into data-driven fertigation recommendations that increase yield per unit of nitrogen fertilizer applied. “The technology is a win-win in terms of profitability,” he said of his N-Time-TM fertigation management system, which sources satellite imagery for every enrolled field, analyzes it and advises farmers of the optimal times to proceed with fertigation. The web application was built for agronomic advisors and their farmer clients and provides fertigation recommendations electronically. Stansell sees his technology as a profit opportunity for farmers: his data indicates that yields exceeded expectations by 10 percent, on average, and allowed growers to achieve an average of $166.59 more profit per acre in 2022.
With this technology, farmers are also able to maximize their dollars. “The timing of this technology is important, because fertilizer prices are at an all-time high and also because it’s important to mitigate the effects that nitrogen fertilizer has on the ecosystem,” said Stansell. “Ultimately, these recommendations save farmers money and eliminate excessive nitrogen fertilizer applications that pose a risk to the environment.”
When nitrogen fertilizer is applied faster than crops can use it, soil bacteria convert it to nitrate, which, during runoff, pollutes groundwater. The nitrates also acidify the soil, and emissions of nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas) contribute to global warming.
Stansell credits NUtech Ventures with helping guide him through the startup phase for Sentinel Fertigation, and he notes that the NUtech team – especially Brad Roth, executive director; Jeewan Jyot, director of licensing, and Joy Eakin, entrepreneurship program manager — helped guide him through the patent, licensing and marketing processes. Stansell also participated in Nebraska’s I-Corps: Introduction to Customer Delivery entrepreneurial course in the spring of 2021. “That got the wheels spinning,” he noted.
After completing his I-Corps course, Stansell subsequently started his company in September 2021. In May of 2022, he then received a $1.2 million seed investment from a group of investors, including Invest Nebraska, Burlington Capital Ag-Venture and the Nebraska Angels. Stansell also received $25,000 investments from the Husker Venture Fund at UNL and the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development’s Launch LNK program. The technology was launched commercially in 2022.
The Combine, a statewide initiative supporting high-growth entrepreneurs in food and the agriculture-tech sector that is based at the Nebraska Innovation Campus, has been another key partner. Stansell is a graduate of the Combine’s incubator program, which guides fledgling entrepreneurs through personalized initial goal setting and idea assessment to preparation for raising capital. The Combine program is comprised of a series of modules that provide early-stage food and agriculture technology companies the resources and fundamentals needed in the early stages of building a start-up.
In addition to incubation space of the Nebraska Innovation Campus, The Combine provides companies with its Combine Commercialization Program, monthly AgriFood Meetups, visits from the Combine Insights Producers Network and office hours from local and regional investors.