Barn Owl Blazing New Trails in Agriculture with AI Technology

Colorado is a trailblazer in many senses of the word. Besides the obvious kind of trail Coloradans hike up or ski down, the state creates many opportunities for innovation, especially for ideas that might positively impact our world or make lives easier.

The Advanced Industries Accelerator (AIA) Program was created in 2013 to promote growth and sustainability in Colorado’s advanced industries by driving innovation, accelerating commercialization, encouraging public-private partnerships, increasing access to early-stage capital, and creating a strong ecosystem that increases the state's global competitiveness. The AIA program operates under the Global Business Development (GBD) division of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade and since the program’s inception, 194 projects have been funded, 3600 jobs created, 2800 jobs retained and $1.9 million gained in third party capital.

Specifically, one grant offered by AIA is the Advanced Industries Early Stage Capital and Retention Grant. This grant helps Colorado-based advanced industries technology businesses develop and commercialize technologies that will be created or manufactured in the state. Advanced technology must be innovative or disruptive, something that is different from currently available technology in the industry, and it must impact at least one of the following fields:

  • advanced manufacturing
  • aerospace
  • bioscience
  • electronics
  • energy and natural resources (including cleantech)
  • infrastructure engineering
  • technology and information

The current cycle’s application is open until March 3, however interested parties have two opportunities to apply each year - January-March and July-September.
Learn more about the Advanced Industries Accelerator Programs.

Success story: Barn Owl surveys the land, so farmers don’t have to

When siblings Sarah and Jaron Hinkley moved back to their hometown of La Junta, CO, they were not sure what to do with their professional experiences in the food industry and drone technology services, respectively. Sarah and her husband Bryan considered starting a restaurant until Jaron came to them with an idea to use his drone technology expertise to help local farmers. The trio quickly realized that drone technology could greatly impact the agricultural industry, especially as farmers face decline in labor and resources. By creating Barn Owl Drone Services, Sarah, Jaron and Bryan can offer “table to farm” services (instead of Sarah and Bryan’s original plan of “farm to table” dining) by sitting down with farmers to learn about what they need, what challenges they face and determine how to provide them the technology they need to make their work more efficient.

Barn Owl was awarded $200,000 from the Advanced Industries Early Stage Capital and Retention Grant grant in 2021. This award, along with other funding from investors and matching grants, has allowed Barn Owl to grow its reach from the potato farms in San Luis Valley to corn fields in Olathe and provide valuable services to farmers across Colorado. These services include crop analysis, mapping, monitoring and testing; photography and videography for marketing needs; volume metric measurements and heavy machinery inspections. Perhaps most unique is Barn Owl’s fleet of robotic weeding units, which cut weeds that interfere with crops. This allows farmers to cut down on labor costs and avoid using chemicals or pulling weeds which disturbs the soil. Barn Owl will also hire and train robotic operators to manage the drones, creating employment opportunities for highly skilled workers in rural areas.

Ultimately, Barn Owl’s goal is to improve the lives of farmers, their families and the food we all eat. Barn Owl is grateful for the opportunity to be supported by this grant and by the State of Colorado, which Sarah sees as setting a standard for other states to invest in agriculture and business. As a new mom and running a woman founded and owned business, she knows it takes a community to not only raise a baby, but also a business.

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