Sentera sees demand soar for its ag drones

Richfield-based Sentera, one of several emerging makers of drones, sensors and software for America’s farmers, is gaining altitude.

CEO Eric Taipale, an engineer who started working on drones a generation ago for defense contractor Lockheed, said relationships with distributors such as huge farm-equipment manufacturer John Deere have been critical.

“We just hit our 350th storefront and probably two-thirds of them have been through John Deere,” Taipale said. “And we are integrated into their ‘digital agriculture’ [software] platform, the John Deere Operations Center. We are about three times as big as we were last year.”

Privately held Sentera, which contracts for manufacturing with Rushford-based Riverbend Electronics, expects to sell up to 1,000 drones this year and post sales of around $5 million.

Sentera makes a fixed-wing drone called the Phoenix. Its software can be used with other drones, including some consumer models sold at Target and elsewhere. The drones, controlled by smartphone or other mobile device, check for moisture levels and crop health on predetermined routes.

Sentera, which employs 24 people, last year raised the final $2 million of an $8.5 million inaugural equity round from ag-related investors that it used for product development and adding several jobs.

The company also plans to raise more equity capital this year.

Sentera is able to run a streamlined operation thanks to outsourced manufacturing and partnering with established-dealer networks.

Neal St. Anthony

Minnesota Trade Office

Polaris executive selected for top trade post

The Minnesota Trade Office has named a Polaris Industries veteran as executive director.

Gabrielle Gerbaud, who took over last week, boasts 14 years of experience in international business and trade. She takes over the MTO post from former director Kathleen Motzenbecker, who left in 2016 for a position with the Medical Alley Association.

Gerbaud inherits an agency responsible for $19 billion worth of exports annually from state manufacturers, mining firms and agricultural producers. Yet, Minnesota exports fell 4 percent last year, mainly due to a drop in product orders from Canada, the state’s largest trading partner. Last year also saw decreased shipments to Mexico and Japan and flattened exports to China.

Gerbaud, a native of Spain who speaks three languages, leads an office founded in 1983 by Gov. Rudy Perpich to help Minnesota companies connect and compete globally. Minnesota businesses exported 1,044 different products to 207 countries last year, supporting nearly 120,000 jobs in Minnesota in 2015.

“I am enthusiastic about this opportunity to apply my international business, trade and cultural expertise to help Minnesota companies become more globally competitive,” Gerbaud said. “I look forward to working with … small business and manufacturers to highlight all our state has to offer the world.”

Gerbaud, educated in economics and international relations at Boston University, worked at Polaris in international sales management posts.

Dee DePass

Personal Economics

Good or lucky? Economist explores success

If you missed Tuesday’s annual “stakeholder dialogue” of the Center for Ethical Business Cultures at the University of St. Thomas with economist-statistician Robert Frank, it’s worth a look at “Why Luck Matters More Than You Might Think,” from the Atlantic magazine, May 2016.

Frank writes in his book “Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy,” that luck plays a bigger role for successful folks than many believe.

And when they see themselves as self-made, they tend to be less generous and public-spirited, necessary ingredients for capitalism to serve the common good. Most of us are not born Rockefellers, Daytons or Trumps.

“Little wonder that when talented, hardworking people in developed countries strike it rich, they tend to ascribe their success to talent and hard work above else,” writes Frank, a professor at Cornell University. “Most of them are vividly aware of how hard they’ve worked and how talented they are. In some abstract sense, they probably do know that they might not have performed as well in some other environment [such as being born poor in a ghetto or impoverished country].

“That we tend to overestimate our own responsibility for our success is not to say that we shouldn’t take pride. Pride is a powerful motivator. And yet failing to consider the role of chance has a dark side, too; making fortunate people less likely to pass on their good fortune.”

David Rodbourne, vice president of the center, underscored one of Frank’s salient points: “[Successful] people resent being told luck is a factor and assume you are telling them that their hard work doesn’t matter.

“But if you ask them to reflect on their lives and careers and invite them to talk about events, actions and people who may have helped them along the way, they are more willing to say that luck was a factor along with hard work.”

Neal St. Anthony