Meet the Founders: H2Ortigator

Many young trees in the horticultural industry fail to survive and thrive causing huge losses in orchards and vineyards. A new business is seeking to solve that problem with their precision irrigation and nutrition device that brings trees up to commercial standard at least a year earlier while using fewer resources.

“In my previous job as a consultant in the horticultural space, I was seeing across the board young trees dying at a rapid rate. Those that were surviving were only producing about 65% of their actual capacity, so I saw a big opportunity to solve a problem there,” said Brendan.

Meet the founders Brendan and Hayley Hamilton of H2Ortigator, they are one of the start-ups taking part in our three-month Sprout 2023 Accelerator in the Cohort X intake.

Brendan spent seven years working as a consultant in the horticultural industry working in high-value horticulture and before that had a lengthy career in biosecurity. Wife and business partner Hayley heads up the administration, stock control and logistics side of the business.

When the couple started looking to solve the problem of failing young trees, they started the process in their backyard with native trees and developed the idea from there, eventually moving into commercial horticulture.

“What surprised us was the size of this problem not just in New Zealand but globally. There is a 1-5% replacement rate for trees in high-value horticulture but that equates to $203 billion a year globally in lost production,” said Brendan.

They have a simple and clear ambition with the business. Get their devices into orchards and vineyards around the world to help make the job of growers simple, as well as add value to those systems. They are currently working on phase one, solidifying their hold in the New Zealand market, then it’s onto phase two and taking their device global.

A key focus for the business not only sits in obtaining additional plant growth to get plants to survive and thrive but also in the sustainability space.

“We want to be reducing water use but getting the same gains and ensuring we are using recycled materials where possible while creating a product that will last the test of time. We don’t want to be adding waste into horticultural systems.”

The name, ‘H2Ortigator’ has a few different variations on how you can say it, and the clever play on words came from wanting to convey what the product is but also making it memorable.

Some of their biggest challenges came right at the start of their venture. Designing a product that can fit a variety of different trees, vines and growing systems is complicated and took time to refine.

“We’ve designed it to cover a range of crops from apples, kiwifruit, right through to tree nuts, so developing something that fitted with the machinery and different setups was challenging.”

One of Brendans biggest aha moments in the development journey of the product is thanks to one of their children. During the testing and trial phase, they were encountering issues with contamination and clogging in the emitters.

“I was manually blowing air into them to unclog them, then one of our children came up and said why don’t you just pump air into it? The lightbulb went off and what we were able to do after allowed our product to stay in the field long term without any maintenance.”

Looking back, they said they would’ve gone bigger, and faster with every stage, in particular the prototype trials.

“We would’ve done trials over more crops with more units to get a larger overview of our product fit which in turn would’ve sped up our market entry,” said Hayley.

Like all entrepreneurs, a big part of their journey has been navigating the emotional side of business development. Feedback from customers and validation have been key in encouraging them on to the next steps and ensuring the lines of communication between the two of them and their network was kept open and free-flowing.

“A stiff bourbon at the end of the day sometimes helps too,” joked  Brendan.

Looking to the future, Brendan and Hayley are hoping that Sprout will help them to perfect their pitch and give them more confidence when out there speaking to investors.

“To anyone with an idea, don’t muck around. Just do it. So many great ideas never get past the thought stage.”