Vineyard breakthrough wins water start-up prize

* Prize launched to spur “Silicon Valley” for water

* Fruition Sciences may expand from vineyard niche

By Mary Milliken

LOS ANGELES, March 8 (BestGrowthStock) – A Web application that
alerts wine grape farmers when their vines are thirsty has won
first place in a competition to spur entrepreneurs in the
investment-starved water sector, organizers said on Monday.

Fruition Sciences, which operates in both California and
France, came first among 50 teams in Imagine H2O’s global
competition aimed at building a “Silicon Valley” for water.

Water is a $500 billion business worldwide, but draws a mere
0.5 to 1.0 percent of venture capital and only a handful of
investments per year despite growing demand for solutions to
widespread water shortages.

The prize rewards the business plans with the greatest
promise of breakthroughs in the efficient use and supply of
water, and Fruition was able to show significant water savings
for nine California grape growers that used the monitor.

“In the water sector, most entrepreneurs want to be in every
single market, but Fruition has started out with an intriguing
niche market where they can polish their idea and then go
broader into other agricultural markets,” said Scott Bryan,
director of operations for Imagine H2O, a non-profit backed by
Royal Bank of Canada (RY.TO: ) and PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Fruition co-founder Sebastien Payen said he saw a real
challenge in the wine industry because there were “absolutely no
plant-based sensors to optimize water management.”

He combined his expertise in sensor and information
technology with co-founder Thibaut Scholasch’s research on vine
water status to create the Web application.

Australia’s Rainwater HOG was prize runner-up with its H2OG
water tank, which collects rainwater and can be used by city
dwellers who do not have much space.

The tank already sells in the United States, Australia, and
the United Kingdom and markets are opening in India and Japan.

California’s WaterSmart Software was also a runner-up with a
Web-based application that allows water utilities to optimize
their water conservation programs.

Once it goes to market, the WaterSmart application could
save participating homeowners an average of 3,000 gallons of
water per year, and in some cases lead to a total water use
reduction of 20 percent, Imagine H2O said.

Imagine H2O offers cash prizes as well as business, legal,
accounting and tax support, and access to partners, customers
and financiers to bring ideas to market.

“The prize is intended to become a magnet for water
entrepreneurship and give the finalists extraordinary exposure
to the investment and business community,” said Imagine H2O
chairman and executive director Tamin Pechet, a Silicon Valley
venture capitalist.

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(Editing by Hans Peters)

Vineyard breakthrough wins water start-up prize