How a tech entrepreneur went from potatoes to Amazon and back again with a family startup
Everyone knows the built-in-a-garage startup origin story. But how about a tech company grown out of potato fields?
“At the peak of planting, I was trying to write code while driving a tractor, which doesn’t work that well,” said David Wallace. “You’re bouncing around and trying to turn.”
In Western Washington’s Skagit Valley, the potato season is most intense during the summer months. So luckily David had other, less jostling opportunities to build CODA Farm Technologies, an internet of things (IoT) agriculture startup that he launched last year with his brother Connor.
Their new company builds on family tradition stretching back to the original Wallace potato farm on the west coast of Ireland in the 1700s. The family immigrated to the Pacific Northwest and started farming in the valley in 1903. Generations of the family members worked the land, some going off to college but eventually returning to the fields.
The Wallace Farm’s website proclaims the clan has “spuds in our blood.” David and Connor apparently bleed russets as well.
David graduated from Whitman College and earned a chemistry Ph.D. from John Hopkins University before taking a job at Amazon. After four years, he left a role as senior data scientist with Amazon Web Services to return to the farm. Connor has a physics degree from Reed College and worked as a software engineer in Portland and San Francisco.
“I’ve always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to apply my technical skills to agriculture,” said David Wallace, who is CEO of CODA Farm Technologies.
Back on the farm, David began looking for a problem to solve using his tech expertise. Given his own farming knowledge and with input from his dad, he settled on irrigation.
Bringing IoT to Sprinklers
Smaller farm tracts in the valley and elsewhere irrigate their land using the “traveling sprinkler” method. The labor-intensive approach uses a sprinkler on wheels that is slowly pulled across a field by a reel at one end. The sprinkler is connected to a pump and a well, and as it’s pulled, it waters the field at a set rate.