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Turner Innovations ready to go commercial with sorrel harvesting machine

Published:Wednesday | March 2, 2016 | 12:00 AMTameka Gordon
Consultant engineer Grant Seabrook (left) and sorrel machine inventor Oral Turner, discuss design improvements.
A staff member shows off the new dried sorrel ‘Turner's Choice’ now being distributed in local supermarkets and soon to be exported.

Inventors Turner Innovations now have the technology to commercialise their reaping machine, having tweaked the concept to mass produce the device, but are looking to break into international markets as reapers before spreading the technology around.

The nascent company has teamed up with Canadian design engineer Grant Seabrook to refine the engineering and create a 3D blueprint of the machine, which means it can now be mass produced.

"They stripped the machine down," said Allison Turner, speaking of the teamwork between her husband, Oral Turner, the brains behind the technology, and Seabrook.

The consultant was brought in with the assistance of First Angels Jamaica, a network through which Turner Innovations is finding financial backers.

"Grant has the latest software, which is 3D. When you put the coordinates in, it does everything for you and gives the blueprint which basically translates to a pattern on paper that you can give any manufacturer and they can make it," said Allison.

But the Turners aren't ready to sell the equipment to others.

While their company will make "at least three more" machines and expand its own dried-sorrel business, which it started towards the end of last year, the harvesters will only be available for hire and must be operated by Turner Innovations' team.

"The mid-term plan is to keep the technology, buy local product and, in the few years, position ourselves in a few other countries that grow sorrel to process their sorrel. All of these countries will want the machine. Nobody will be able to compete with us," said Allison.

The plans have found favour with the First Angel backers and newly appointed board.


Chairman of the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) and First Angels investor, Joseph M. Matalon, told Sunday Business that the business model would result in bigger returns than "selling the machine in the first instance."

The company's board is chaired by Claudine Tracey, who is group chief strategy manager at Jamaica Money Market Brokers and a former general manager of strategic services at DBJ. Other directors include Wayne Sutherland, managing director of Jamaica Venture Fund; Joseph M. Matalon; and Oral and Allison Turner.

The redesign of the sorrel harvester also means that Turner Innovations can now process 1,600 pounds of sorrel up from the current 300 pounds.

By holding on to the technology and expanding its services to some of the other 22 countries that produce sorrel, the Turners hope to drive up the demand for their machine, and with that, the value of the technology.

"We intend to take our company to those countries and pluck their sorrel. It will create business for us. That, in turn, will increase the value of the machine for when we do decide to sell it, because there is a lot more money to be made in products that there is from the machine," Allison reasoned.

"When we are well established in the market with our product and we have made the benefit to our country via employment and increase the farmers' income, at that point, then we can introduce the competition by selling the machine. We will be way ahead by then," she said.

The Turners were connected with Seabrook by their angel investors.

The Canadian sold off his own Ontario-based company, Machines Dynamics Limited, about 10 years ago and now backs start-up innovators as an angel investor.

"He worked out to be the perfect fit for us. He has committed to calling in some favours of his ex-employees to see how to redesign the control panels," she said.

"What this says to our investors is that this machine is the real McCoy, which is key for us," said Turner, adding that the engineer's experience and background validates their machine as a game changer.

"So the machine is not in our backyard anymore - it's commercialised," she said.

Turner Innovations also plans to tap the export market with its dried sorrel product and already has a distribution agreement with PA Benjamins Manufacturing Company.

Locally, the two-ounce packages of dried sorrel are distributed by Facey Commodity.

"Over the Christmas, we started packaging sorrel like crazy. PA Benjamins bought 108 boxes from us in January," said Turner.

The company plans to start exporting sorrel by early April.