Monthly we showcase one of our portfolio founders and their unique journeys to entrepreneurship. Each interview is complete with their learnings, stumbles and time hacks...all within 1000 words or about 4 minutes of your time. (The average person can read 1000 words in 4 min 12 seconds).
Sarah Hinkley co-founded Barn Owl Precision Agriculture (BOPA) in 2017. After moving back home to La Junta, Colorado, she reconnected with the local community and saw the challenges facing small and mid-size farmers. BOPA provides solutions to these challenges by combining drone imagery with autonomous nano tractors (ANTs) to take action and create savings in inputs, labor, and time. Sarah completed an undergraduate degree in business at Texas State and a Masters in Health from Colorado State.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A Veterinarian. Then I realized that I would have to assist with putting down animals. After being a vet, I moved on to mostly business-related things like being a restaurant owner…the joy of bringing food to people has always been a passion. Along the way, I realized the importance of the soil in the food system and decided to focus on that.
Tell us about your company's origin story...was it an "aha moment" or a "gradual realization"? Mostly a gradual realization. The aha moments are constant and more about how we’d put a real business together behind the problem we are solving. The gradual element of founding Barn Owl Precision Agriculture was through our conversations with farmers. We built a deep understanding of their top needs and challenges. Then a few “aha”s came as we developed a solution (i.e. our robot) and how to do it cheaply. From 2018 to 2021, we were exploring the problem with the farmers. And from 2021 to today it has been full force building, raising funding, piloting customers, and continuing to listen to farmers.
If you could go back in time and tell yourself something when you first started Barn Owl, what would it be?
Be more vulnerable. I had a lot of difficult experiences across my lifetime, so I was more guarded and reserved than I needed to be. When you are more open and vulnerable with trusted people, you have more ability to be honest about what you are doing, and in turn, you can build better relationships with customers, partners, etc.
What is the best constructive feedback you have gotten? and did it hurt when you first heard it?
I was a ballet dancer for 13 years, and my body type is not ideal for dancing - I am muscular and short, and they want tall and muscular ballerinas. In some of my professional workshops, the feedback I got was direct that my body type would prove difficult for advancement. It was hard to swallow in the moment, but ultimately needed to be heard, and helped me redirect my path.
Why is Colorado a great place to start a company?
Colorado has all the right “environments” - physical beauty - the mountains, rivers; the weather - the four seasons; and the business environment - a startup-friendly ecosystem. It has lots of experienced founders, fast-growing companies, and supportive people to surround yourself with. It also has a rural environment, which allows us to build something life-changing for our customers. We are in Southern Colorado, just southeast and southwest of Colorado Springs.
How do you take your coffee? And how often? Black and constantly before noon
Favorite time management hack? Scheduling time for time management. I give myself 30 minutes after dropping my kids off to manage my day. I remove all distractions.
Last book you read? For the Love of Soil by Nicole Masters
Favorite podcast or blog? Planet Money from NPR
Free time (not that you have any) but if you did or when you do, how do you spend it? Either hiking or woodworking. I like to carve and build. Not that I am any good at it, but I built a table one time. It has a Colorado logo and flag on it - it's at our house.