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Arrowhead Center Success Stories: AgSprint alum business building their workforce in New Mexico for a global industry

While farmers can walk their fields, the years of data they might have about their crops can overwhelm them, especially when they need to make quick decisions when diseases strike. This is where Emerging Technology Ventures Inc. comes in, automating the walking of the fields with drones and recommending immediately actionable remedies from analyzed data.


Two men at a desk
New Mexico State University student and ETV software engineer Ziad Arafat, right, and ETV operations manager Carter Taylor upload data from an ETV drone to a computer. ETV uses drones and robots augmented with artificial intelligence to sift through new data and analyze that alongside previously collected data sets to give farmers precisely the right recommendations for their field and specific crops. ETV won a $20,000 investment in GreenAI, sponsored by New Mexico Gas Company, at AgSprint, a business accelerator program at NMSU's Arrowhead Center. (NMSU courtesy photo)

It was at AgSprint, a business accelerator program at New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center, where ETV was able to hone in on their customer’s needs.

“We had an idea of what our GreenAI could do but were able to see that farmers needed actual remedies for diseases in their crop, and fast,” said Cliff Hudson, ETV’s chief technology officer.

During AgSprint, ETV was able to take a deep dive into customer discovery, where they took stock of the data farmers already had, but which the farmers were unable to process quickly. ETV uses drones and robots augmented with artificial intelligence to sift through new data and analyze that alongside previously collected data sets to give farmers precisely the right recommendations for their field and specific crops.

ETV won a $20,000 investment in GreenAI, sponsored by Arrowhead’s industry partner New Mexico Gas Company, at AgSprint. This allowed ETV to grow its business by recruiting employees – ETV is on track to have 24 in New Mexico and one in Indiana – and educate a budding workforce by bringing on interns from NMSU, Navajo Technical University and high school students interested in robotics or coding.

Software engineer Ziad Arafat came on to work with ETV as an intern while he was in a local robotics team.

“I started programming at 15, but it’s hard to learn when you don’t have a project to move forward with,” said Arafat, who is heading to NMSU in the fall to study artificial intelligence.

“Now I make the prototype user interfaces for GreenAI,” he said. “More than just doing focused programming, I’ve also been able to learn soft skills, like collaboration and how to make better documentation like for our partners at Sandia Laboratories.”

“These partnerships with groups like Sandia Laboratories, Arrowhead Center, and New Mexico Small Business Assistance program have been a real driving reason why we selected New Mexico for ETV,” said Hudson. “The state did a great job recruiting us as a place to nurture business with great incentives like job training programs, local economic development acts, plus recognizing that businesses don’t always make money right out of the box and can’t necessarily use tax credits but will need partnerships to drive their growth.”

Zetdi Sloan, director of Arrowhead Center’s Sprint Accelerator programs, said, “We have built a strong network of industry leaders who want to see economic growth in our state and are willing to give time as a resource to help these startups refine their vision and strategies, to set them up for the best success that will be to the advantage to generations of New Mexicans.”

ETV has expanded its reach from the ground to the skies with SkyAI, a drone specifically suited to wind turbines.

“Our advantage over the competition is that while there are other companies with drones, they only use visual examination. We use visual, thermal and lidar, which is a pulsed laser light that can make a 3D representation,” said Hudson. “The drone shows the leading edge of a wind turbine blade and scout for any cracks and how to take corrective actions before catastrophic failures set in. What we do with SkyAI in an hour takes a day to do manually.”

ETV presented in May at the 2019 Industry Growth Forum in Denver and at the MassChallenge Texas in Houston Round 2 in June. The most exciting adventure is ahead of them this fall as they travel overseas, representing one of 12 technologies selected by the U.S.-China Innovation Alliance’s InnoSTARS Houston Competition to head to proceed to the next round of competition and investor discussions in China.

“Winning has helped us validate and refine our technology because these are industry experts judging our work,” said Hudson. “Our technology’s architecture can move into sensing and action in complex environments, especially critical infrastructure like roads, bridges, dams, cell towers, and power polls. Once we have data sets, we will be able to move into other markets very quickly.”

To learn more about how Arrowhead Center’s AgSprint business accelerator program is facilitating innovation in agriculture in partnership with industry partners, visit arrowheadcenter.nmsu.edu/agsprint, or contact Sloan at 575-646-7833 or zrunyan@nmsu.edu.