At first glance, Josh Clements appears to be a normal engineering student. But, there’s another side to this college junior. He’s also the co-founder and head of product for Vineteq — a software-based company that uses artificial intelligence and data analytics to optimize the agricultural spraying process of vineyards on the East Coast.
What started as an idea for an “Internet of Things” class taught by two entrepreneurs through JMU X-Labs quickly developed into a start-up company, with Clements leading the venture. He enlisted the help of former JMU student Ben Carey, and the two spent the fall of 2018 meeting with vineyard owners to determine their best course of action.
“We went out and talked to [vineyard owners], and the very first one was like, ‘ ... We have so much data; we just don’t know what to do with the data,’” Clements said. “So, then from there … we figured out the best way to go about it was creating a software-based system that made decisions based on the data they already had.”
The software pulls together data such as weather patterns, geographic location and time of year to determine what diseases are at risk for each vineyard. It then selects spraying techniques based on those diseases and the owners’ personal preferences.
Carey, who’s the co-founder as well as the head of sales, said the most difficult part of developing a company for vineyards was convincing farmers to be open to the idea of a technology-based solution. Some were reluctant to introduce technology into their means of production.
“The hardest thing was probably just convincing them that, ‘Hey, this solution is the future. This is the way the industry’s going, and you need to start implementing software-based solutions or other technologies or robots into your vineyards … to succeed in this space down the line,’” Carey said. “Some of them are totally open to it … but some of them are super closed-minded.”
Another difficulty was learning about viticulture, the cultivation and harvesting of grapes. With Carey’s background in computer information systems and Clements’ engineering major, their knowledge on the subject started from scratch, but Clements said his intellectual strengths helped him overcome this challenge.
“I learn very quickly, especially when I’m working on a project where I need to learn a certain thing for it,” Clements said. “Ben and I have learned a ton about viticulture in a year’s period that we probably would’ve never known if this idea didn’t come to us.”
Clements said balancing the responsibilities of a start-up company with his schoolwork has been difficult. He often stays awake through the night to complete all of his tasks and sometimes spends anywhere from five to 20 hours a week working on responsibilities for the enterprise.
“Two nights ago, I stayed up ’till 5 a.m. just working on stuff that I needed to get done,” Clements said. “So, it definitely can be stressful, but I just try and make sure I have time for [Vineteq]. And when I don’t, it means an all-nighter.”
Vineteq salesperson Jacob Herr praises Clements for his passion and dedication. He said Clements is a hard worker, and he’s impressed that Vineteq came to fruition in such a unique way.
“We’ve had other opportunities that we’ve discussed, and as soon as the idea pops into the air, [Clements] just loses sight of everything else and focuses completely on moving forward with just that idea,” Herr said. “Whenever it’s a good idea, your first thought is always, ‘Why didn’t anyone else think of this?’ And I just thought it was cool that Josh was actually in a university classroom when this idea popped up in his head.”
Vineteq is currently still in development, and the launch of the platform is set for the 2020 growing season. Clements and his associates plan to start sales within the next month, and they’re looking forward to creating a program that can be expanded internationally and to other areas of agriculture.
Clements is also working on a few other projects, including a social media app for pickup sports that notifies players of locations and other players’ skill levels. His plan for the future is to help his clients as best he can and deliver a salary to those working for the company.
Despite the risks that come with a start-up company, Clements is determined to fulfill his dream of becoming a successful entrepreneur — the same dream his grandfather was unable to accomplish while living in a poverty-ridden area in Philadelphia. Clements said having a stable engineering job was more important to his grandfather than following his dreams. But, because of his grandfather’s sacrifice, he has the tools he needs to succeed.
“As he started working in the engineering field and getting manager positions, he didn’t want to drop that because he had that sustainability of, ‘I know where my paycheck’s coming from, [and] I know I can take care of my family,’” Clements said. “Part of it is, I feel like I should follow my dreams — especially since they overlap with his a lot — to bring his dreams forward as well. So that’s something that really pushes me to do it and get past the risk.”
Contact Amy Needham at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.