A few key words come to mind when talking technology and now, thanks to Savannah entrepreneur Dean McCraw, you can add timber and logging to that list.
Phloem, which is a mobile app that McCraw designed to increase efficiency of both log trucks and mills by allowing improved truck unloading data for sustainable forestry certifications, took home the winning spot Tuesday night during the Savannah Startup Day pitch competition.
The event was sponsored by the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) at Georgia Tech.
“We’re in the early stages of development, and it’s helped me make the connections I needed, because I really had no idea where to start,” McCraw said of ATDC.
“I’m just extremely excited.”
McCraw, 60, is a certified forester and arborist with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. He moved to Savannah in 1979 to work at Union Camp and has managed the production and distribution of more than 500 million forest seedlings planted from Oklahoma to North Carolina while working for Rayonier.
Phloem is his third business venture but the first one centered on technology.
“The logging business is a very tough business with very low margins... And one of the problems is that when the drivers get to the mill they don’t know what’s going to greet them,” McCraw said during his short pitch to judges Greg Nicholson of ATDC and local investor and Guild Hall co-owner Clegg Ivey.
“The solution is giving real time data to what’s happening at the mill, and that’s what Phloem will do,” he said.
The app will provide truck unloading times and send alerts to drivers, such as letting them know what products are being unloaded at the mill. It also allows the timber to be tracked from the forest to the mill and provides a subscription service for timber theft monitoring, which McCraw said costs the industry about $1 billion annually.
“That data for chain of custody is very valuable,” he said.
“There are no serial numbers on a tree... So truckers can claim it’s their wood instead of the land owner’s wood and get paid not only for the logging rate but also the stumpage rate.”
McCraw hopes to have the test system live in Savannah mills by October and to go into wide distribution by the first quarter of 2017.
He and the eight other participants, who pitched their ideas Tuesday are recent graduates of an intense bootcamp sponsored by ATDC, which consisted of workshops and coursework spread over 12 weeks to give the would-be entrepreneurs the tools and skills take their ideas from concepts to company launch.
“I had no idea what I was doing. As I mentioned, I have no tech background, and I just happened to find (the bootcamp) online,” McCraw said.
“I’m the oldest of the group, the thorn among the roses, but it’s been a great experience.”
By taking the top spot at the Savannah competition, McCraw will now move on to pitch Phloem at the Atlanta ATDC showcase next month, which will offer exposure to hundreds of investors, corporate partners and other entrepreneurs.
Yvonne Jouffrault, who serves as the ATDC Savannah Entrepreneur in Residence, said she was extremely proud of all of the student’s progress and dedication to their companies.
“I wish I could show you a video of each these founders when they started the bootcamp so you could see what I see right now,” she said.
“The immense amount of progress they’ve all made in developing a business model, talking to customers and watching the way that they performed on this stage and the answers they were able to give, I’m seriously very proud.”
For more information about the Advanced Technology Development Center and the Savannah branch, go to atdc.org/savannah.
For more information on Phloem, go to www.mccrawenergy.com.