EnterpriseWorks startup Aspiring Universe has won the 2020 OCP Innovation Challenge, taking home $25,000 in prize money.
The event was designed to solicit solutions from early-stage AgTech companies developing innovative data-driven solutions that address farmers’ challenges and support them in improving agricultural practices.
It was sponsored by OCP, a global plant-nutrition company headquartered in Morocco, in collaboration with the Larta Institute, a startup accelerator and commercialization hub based in Los Angeles.
Aspiring Universe’s technology takes a modern approach to risk management integrating artificial intelligence, remote sensing, and financial risk models to create customized risk modeling assessments for farm-related businesses. It was founded by Kaiyu Guan, a Blue Waters Assistant Professor in ecohydrology and remote sensing in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The company is a tenant at EnterpriseWorks, the technology incubator in the Research Park.
Seven finalists from over 100 applicants worldwide were selected to participate in a custom-built mentoring program with industry experts in Larta’s network, along with mentors chosen by OCP. The program culminated with a Demo Day on June 17, and Aspiring Universe was announced as the winner on June 24.
The following is from a news release compiled by The Larta Institute. Read the entire announcement here.
Each finalist presented their pitch presentations in a virtual “Demo Day” on June 17, 2020, introducing innovative solutions using sensors, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, Internet of Things (IoT and wearables) and more.
Finalists were judged by a panel composed of venture investment executive, Craig Herron of iSelect Fund, Trey Hill, owner of Harborview Farms, and OCP executives.
“I was impressed by the rigor and passion the 7 finalists demonstrated in their pitches,” commented Marouane Ameziane, EVP for Strategy and Corporate Development of the OCP Group. “OCP is deeply committed to supporting the global agtech innovation ecosystem, and this challenge is an extension of that. We see innovators as important partners to create and provide solutions that are farmer-centric, data-driven, and that positively contribute to sustainable food systems. Congratulations to Aspiring Universe for a well-deserved win.”
Aspiring Universe was announced as the winner of the $25,000 grand prize at the conclusion of the Demo Day. Aspiring Universe is developing geospatial intelligence solutions for assessing farmland sustainability metrics and productivity/financial risk, for all farmland on the planet.
Summarizing his pitch at the Demo Day, Aspiring Universe’s co-founder and president, Kaiyu Guan, spoke to the Company’s achievements in developing “a comprehensive suite of tools that uses remote sensing, process models and artificial intelligence to allow us to evaluate past, current and future crop land performance, including crop rotation and management history, yield, water use, soil moisture and carbon.”
This “bottom-up method”, Guan continued, “can be aggregated across any global region 2 (and) we are providing critical insights to companies throughout the agriculture value chain.” The team is “looking forward to working with OCP to explore a potential partnership, and we are grateful to OCP and Larta for providing the opportunity to compete in the OCP Innovation Challenge,” he added.
Larta CEO Rohit Shukla spoke about the time he met Kaiyu and his team before he applied to the OCP. “I was struck by his ability to use large satellite data sets to focus on the granular, field level,” Shukla says, and, he says, “being taken with his enthusiasm, his clarity, his vision for where they were headed, and his huge appetite to learn.”
Added Shukla, “we are proud of his achievement, and he knows we will be engaged together for a long time to come.”
The panel of judges enjoyed the presentation, technology and clarity in the message about the impact of the technology. Judges mentioned that Kaiyu was a great presenter, and found Aspiring Universe’s geospatial intelligence solutions for assessing farmland sustainability to be incredibly compelling. Many of the judges were eager to learn more about their growth and advances in the field.
OCP Advisor Bob Morris, President of AndMore Associates, LLC and mentor of Aspiring Universe. remarked, “It was clear to me during our first mentorship call with Kaiyu and the team at Aspiring Universe that, along with a strong technology behind them, they had the vision and talent to develop, translate and curate meaningful data to provide solutions to agricultural decision makers. Through winning the OCP-Larta Challenge, they have convinced other industry leaders of their potential. I wish them great success going forward.”
Larta Advisor Gunjan Siroya who was the Larta mentor of Aspiring Universe was equally full of praise, saying, “Aspiring Universe is marked by high performing and passionate team members. Their next-generation technology offers both flexibility and scale. Winning the OCP innovation Challenge is more validation of Aspiring Universe’s offering. I’m confident Kaiyu and his team will continue to bring measurable impacts to the agriculture ecosystem.”
More information on the challenge and the finalists can be found here.