CINCINNATI -- Jacob Shidler didn’t want to be an entrepreneur.
The Madeira resident had seen how hard his father, Marvin, had worked on the construction company he owns. But then he studied environmental science at the University of Cincinnati, and out of necessity he came up with a better way to collect data in the field. People liked it and were willing to pay for it.
And so was born Liquid, its name born of his passion for water and from the idea of making data more fluid and more transferable.
How does it work?
Liquid is a software platform, compatible with mobile devices, that enables users to photograph, tag and record samples and upload the data when they’re back from the field. According to www.getliquid.io, it can be used to create charts about the data and give others access to the data.
The idea, Shidler said, is to have “one single source of truth for any scientific project.”
Where’d the idea come from?
He saw the need when he did his master’s research on water quality on the African island of Comoros. There, he found it difficult to use the paper notebooks commonly used for field research, and instead created a system using an iPad.
That system enabled him to collect 75 samples, instead of the 25 he had hoped to when he started.
When he returned to UC, he found his advisers were more interested in the system than in his research, and one group was willing to pay for it. Shidler contacted Caleb LeNoir, the only software developer he knew, and together they built an Android app over two weekends.
Do they have investors?
UpTech invested $50,000 and OCEAN $35,000. The Queen City Angels investment fund contributed $100,000, plus $107,000 more from individuals involved in the fund, Shidler said.
Andy Sathe, who’s on the UpTech board, said that UpTech liked the fact that Liquid was making efficient a process that’s incredibly inefficient. “His solution was really elegant and really interesting,” Sathe said.
How does Liquid make money?
By charging users for each project they use the software for. Shidler expects the company to have about $36,000 in revenue this year.
Does it have customers?
Yes, the largest one being Montana-based Adventure Scientists, a nonprofit that collects data from the outdoors that’s used to solve environmental problems.
Shidler spends most of his time now trying to find new customers. For example, Liquid’s running a pilot program with a potential customer that does historical preservation and needs to organize its field samples.
He and co-founder LeNoir are Liquid’s only employees now, and they don’t take a salary. Both of them do side jobs to make ends meet, he said.
Signing more customers would enable them to hire more employees, he said, and possibly attract more investors.
Liquid faces a challenge lots of startups with new technology face, Sathe said, in that their solution’s great for large organizations, but large organizations tend to have large bureaucracies that slow down decisions. That makes for a long sales cycle.
The company’s other big challenge is getting the word out about its solution, he said. “Everything I hear about existing clients is that they love the product,” he added.
What’s being an entrepreneur like?
It’s just as hard as Shidler expected it to be. “It’s been really tough, but I’m thankful for it being tough,” he said. “I’ve never learned so much, in such a short period, in all my life.”
And he remains passionate about how Liquid can help the environment.
“I am a scientist, I care a lot about getting people excited about science and preserving nature for future generations,” he said.