published on July 8, 2016 - 10:51 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff
A Fresno-based company that caters to the burgeoning cannabis industry was named the 2016 Innovation and Technology Business of the Year by the UC Merced Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

Current Culture H20, which has developed a patented, hydroponic plant-growing system, received the award for the work the company has done in pioneering new and more efficient ways to grow plants without soil.

Hydroponics, a subset of hydroculture, is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions in water. Demand for hydroponic products is so great that Current Culture H2O’s sales have been growing at an annual rate of 40 percent for the past four years, according to company founder and President Daniel Wilson.

Business is so good, in fact, that this week Wilson’s company is moving from its current 10,000-square-foot headquarters in central Fresno to a new, 32,000-square-foot facility in south Fresno on Malaga Avenue.

“We’re involved in the emerging cannabis industry, which is quickly growing in size and legitimacy,” Wilson said. “I foresee some potentially larger growth in the years ahead as we roll out some new products and ag markets continue to expand.”

Diane Howerton, regional director of the UC Merced SBDC, who presented the innovation award to Current Culture H2O at a ceremony in Merced in May, praised the company’s business plan.

“Since 2006, Current Culture H20 has been cultivating hydroponic evolution by designing, manufacturing and distributing innovative and relevant products that promote efficiency and maximize productivity for hobby and commercial hydroponics growers,” said Howerton, noting that the company’s “innovative hydroponics systems and nutrients are used in a wide variety of modern ag applications throughout the world” — in both greenhouses and so-called CEA (controlled environment agriculture) applications that utilize supplemental lighting.

Wilson, who founded Current Culture H20 in 2004, holds a utility patent for the principal dynamics used in the company’s flagship “Under Current” water culture system. The company has 17 employees and currently operates through more than 900 retailers and distributors throughout North America and around the world.

Wilson and his wife Cheryl, who serves as the company’s chief financial officer, actually began selling hydroponic growing materials in 1999 at a retail store in the Tower District.

“We were practitioners of hydroponics and developed the approach that we received the patent on — which provides better circulation and homogenization in the growing systems,” Wilson said.

The country’s booming cannabis industry, which generated more than $4.2 billion in revenue in 2015 and is forecast to surpass $22 billion by 2020, has wholeheartedly embraced hydroponics.

Because Current Culture’s products are sold through retailers and distributors, Wilson no longer has as much direct contact with end-users. But he estimates that “the vast majority” of his customers are medical marijuana growers.

“We do work with a lot of large-scale licensed marijuana growing operations,” he said.

In the midst of their meteoric growth, consultants at Fresno State’s SBDC have provided Wilson and his team with strategy and market opportunity assistance and are also currently assisting the company with the financial needs for new product development and marketing.

Howerton said Current Culture H20 was being recognized, in part, because of the “disruptive nature of its product to traditional agriculture.”

The UC Merced SBDC Regional Network is a partnership between the U.S. Small Business Administration, UC Merced and a handful of premier host institutions across Central California. Since it’s founding in 2003, the network has helped create more than $289 million in financing — via loans and equity — for Central Valley small businesses.

Working with Fresno State’s SBDC as well as the Stanislaus Business Alliance in Modesto, CSU Bakersfield and Monterey Bay, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and UC Merced , the program provides small business services in 14 California counties.

The program’s leadership and consulting team assisted more than 1,500 businesses across Central California during the past year, generating, according to independent third-party verification, $169.2 million in increased sales and $4.37 million in additional tax revenues.

Tom Tapia, owner of Tom’s Truck Repair in Modesto, received assistance from program consultants while he was trying to buy his business.

“The purchase process was long and arduous,” Tapia said. “We could not have completed these negotiations successfully without the assistance of the Alliance Small Business Development Center. Their professional guidance, business insight and caring about our future allowed us to fulfill a dream.”

As he was packing up boxes preparing for Current Culture’s impending move last week, Wilson said he was “very pleased” to have received assistance — and the recent award — from the UC Merced SBDC. “The award’s an indication we’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “I imagine we’ll benefit from it because of added name recognition too.”

For now, Wilson said he and the company’s employees are “super busy” filling orders while preparing to make the move to the larger facility. “Hopefully,” he added, “we’ll be able to make a seamless transition.”

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