Richard O’Connor comes across like a whiz-kid in a vegetable store, passionate about the hydroponic grow system business he is incubating.
Called Mobile Farming Systems, O’Connor as CEO and an investment team are sowing the seeds of a new agriculture technology company that focuses on two types of hydroponic grow systems for fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs:
• A grow system that can be built in mobile shipping containers, pods or bumper-pull-type box trailers.
The plug-and-play units, some capable of producing yields that equate to 1-acre of farmland, could be sold to government, business and private entities for shipment to disaster sites, impoverished and barren areas, military sites, schools or commercial growing centers.
Equipped with water and carbon-dioxide tanks, grow containers, air conditioning, fans to simulate wind and lights to mimic night, they are being designed to produce food year-round, regardless of climate.
A computer system regulates the water, air, temperature and pH levels, keep temperatures at prime growing conditions and sends out an alert if the levels go awry.
• The VegBuddy, a patio-sized system for home gardeners. It, along with nutrient-pack seedlings, could be sold through at retail outlets, and through infomercials.
“This company will be the ‘Geek Squad’ of hydroponics,” O’Connor said. “This is a company I will keep.”
An Orange County entrepreneur, O’Connor lays claim to taking Rawlings Golf public in 1992, and in 2002 being one of four to start a venture that became Mail.com. In 2010, Mail.com sold the e-mail portion of its assets to Germany’s United Internet Group. The deal was reported to be in the range of $50 million to $100 million.
“This is more than a business,” O’Connor said. “Every deal I did before, I looked at the bottom line — what’s in it for me. I never got emotionally attached. This is different. This is about helping the world on a local, regional and global basis.”
With Richard Probst as company president and some $250,000 in seed money, O’Connor said a 20,000-square-foot facility has already been set up in Azusa. It is capable of making 10 advanced mobile grow units per week.
Recently, O’Conner scoped out sites in the east valley for a corporate headquarters, hydroponic farmers market and a showroom.
Plans are taking shape with Denise DuBarry Hay, founder and president of the direct response marketing firm Kaswit, to create infomercials for VegBuddy.com
“I’m all about finding ways to bring organic food to the table in a cost-effective way,” said DuBarry Hay. “It’s a cool concept, and product. Who doesn’t want an herb garden in the backyard? This way, you can have herbs, and an assortment of vegetables, and you know where it came from: No pesticides, no junk.”
And Mobile Farming System signed a deal with Los Angeles-based Phototron Holdings Inc., to develop prototypes for the VegBuddy. It plans to get its nutrient packs from Phototron, as well.
A company that spent over $60,000 in R&D at the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center of the University of Arizona on its grow system technology, Phototron has been featured on the Martha Stewart Show.
O’Connor, now raising $500,000 for an official launch, is pleased with the progress.
“If it starts good, it ends good,” he said. “It’s been an awesome experience, so far.”