UNR student entrepreneur awarded $50,000

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UNR student entrepreneur awarded $50,000

Unr_sontag_winner_2014

Brian Blair (center) receives the Sontag Entrepreneurship Award, which includes $50,000, on Monday. There to congratulate Blair are Greg Mosier, UNR's College of Business Dean (left), and Dave Croasdell, who chairs UNR's Information Systems Department.

A University of Nevada, Reno student has received $50,000 to grow his business, which will automate farm irrigation systems to save time and water.

MBA Student Brian Blair and his team won the Sontag  Entrepreneurship Award Monday for their company, Irrigo, which means "to irrigate" in Latin.

Blair came up with the idea to automate irrigation systems after learning that his friend, a farmer in Fallon, uses a manual set-up:

"We were having dinner and he says, 'Hey, I've got to go out and irrigate my fields.' And I'm like, 'What do you mean?' And he's like, 'Well, I've got to open and close the gates,' and I'm like, 'I think we've moved beyond that now.' And when you actually look at it, there's not much out there to do that."

The award money will help pay for software development and prototyping. Blair says the final product could save farmers about 1/5 of the water they currently use with manual irrigation, a precious savings given Nevada's ongoing drought.

Seven teams were finalists for the award, and Dave Croasdell who chairs UNR's Department of Information Systems, says the competition encourages students to get out of the traditional classroom, rolling up their sleeves for real-world experience.

"When you're in entrepreneurship, you have to know everything soup-to-nuts," Croasdell explains. "You have to know your management team, you have to know what your market is, you have to figure out what your financials are. So, it's really a tremendous opportunity for us to allow our students to work outside their typical classes and really know how to do the business."

The award is in its third year and started with a major gift from University of Nevada, Reno alumnus Rick Sontag.