A version of this story was originally published on westcenter.org.
Lorenzo Rota recently graduated from West Business Development Center’s Startup Mendocino program. West Center caught up with him while he was “out in the field” — in vineyards by Talmage for a project with the Mendocino Winegrowers Association. He was there to study the difference between dry farmed and irrigated vineyards.
Are vineyards one of your specialties?
Mapping is my specialty. I’ve documented fire damage in Sonoma County for vineyards, and I create maps of vineyards for various projects they undertake. We have special sensors that look at certain bands of light and then detect the health of the leaves of the plant. You know how well the plant is doing with specialized sensors that they put on drones.
The main focus of the work right now, however, is providing the service to dispense beneficial insects for organic farmers. It’s a much larger drone that holds a hopper and computer, which controls dispensing of the insects on crops such as vineyards.
We just did an organic walnut orchard. We’ve also provided the service for some cannabis crops, and for strawberries down in the Monterey and Salinas area. Last weekend I was doing three different organic walnut orchards. They’re doing research on the effectiveness of beneficial insects for walnut orchards.
When you are introducing your business, after having done the StartUp Mendocino pitch training, how do you introduce yourself? And what are you most known for?
I’m Lorenzo Rota of Volare Aerial Imaging and we provide specialized drone services for both agriculture and construction. Our newest service for agriculture is dispensing beneficial insects for organic farms. In the construction venue, we provide monitoring of construction sites on a weekly basis. More frequently, we use videos or photographs and maps over time.
What was a training in StartUp Mendocino that was inspiring to you?
Working with the other cohort participants to see how they’ve grown their business, how they’ve navigated successes and failures, and what they’ve done with their business. That’s been inspiring. Seeing other people in the same shoes, struggling with similar issues… all the new business startup issues one has.
And then having the resources that West Center brings. Looking at all the inputs of costs and expenses with the financial modeling spreadsheet. It helps us figure out what would be the appropriate pricing to maintain profitability.
What was your TOP TAKEAWAY from one of those sessions?
That the price of our products needs to include and account for all the overhead and future capital expenditures that we’re going to need to expand the business. That includes looking at expanding financing as well.
What’s starting to change for you and your business as a result of being in StartUp Mendocino?
I think it’s the future focus on planning for investments in the company. Whether it’s computer workstations or more advanced drones. We need to keep current and competitive, so there will have to be additional investment and a plan for that.
What is one characteristic or talent that you have that helps you with your business process?
I go out to customers, to find them. A lot of people advertise and wait for customers to come to them. I actively decide who I want my customers to be and go find them. Then I talk to them about what their needs are.
Today’s project was talking to a vineyard owner who’s been cultivating a family vineyard. I went there to find out in what ways drones could help them. I want to find out if they use organic products on their vineyard, and if that’s something that drones can do.
And what’s something we wouldn’t otherwise know about you?
I worked on my very first projects in 2019 and 2020 with Pacific Gas and Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric. We used drones to inspect all their electrical transmission towers for wildfire risk mitigation in response to the Paradise fire. I personally inspected over 600 electrical towers using drones.