GREAT FALLS - The Montana Department of Agriculture introduced an inaugural Montana Ag-Tech Innovation and Investment Summit.
The inaugural event is to push agriculture forward.
An all-day event on Jan. 24, hosted guest speakers, networking opportunities and a Shark Tank style “Pitch Arena.”
A stack of applicants, narrowed to 10 finalists — prepared to deliver a 60-second elevator pitch to industry leaders and potential investors.
David Sands and Claire Sands Baker were one of ten finalists — and a father-daughter duo.
“I have to say now is the time,” stated David.
“This is actually our launch day,” added Claire.
Claire Sands Baker is the CEO and co-founder of Kuvu Bio Solutions, a biological herbicide company.
Her father, David, is a former Montana State University professor in the Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology Department.
“A plant cell is very much like a computer. It has to make a hundred decisions a minute. In that, it can throw away certain genes that are not efficient and that becomes a weakness. If you understand how computers work, then plants work the same way.” Dr. Sands explained.
The science the two are working with are different than what is being used today.
The chemical herbicide industry earns $35 billion per year. Herbicides that are synthetically made.
The science the Sands duo is working on is taking, herbicide-resistant weeds, and using plant biology and fungi, to defeat it.
It is something the two have piloted in Kenya, Africa.
“It's very important to understand where the farmers are coming from. So, that product there that was developed is human-centered design. Women farmers, small scale farmers are planting with their hands. We had to have a way to distribute this product that is going to work with them. We'll do the same thing as we develop products in the United States.” Clare said.
The research the two found in Kenya focuses on food security in developing countries.
What it can bring to farmers in the United States — is fighting evolution with evolution.
“Let's let the fungus do what it’s been doing for a million years,” explained Dr. Sands, “Just rely on the fungus, on its own biology and just help it out a little bit. That's a new technology. That's a new way of thinking and farmers love it.”
Dr. Sands’ findings and career as an instructor far surpass his daughter’s company.
Pitching against Kuvu Bio Solutions is a former student, Morteza Hosseinnejad, co-founder of Aizy Tech.
Hosseinnejad is a mechanical engineer who was encouraged by a friend to attend a lecture of Dr. Sands. Following that experience, it was a must to take his class.
“I would say he's one of the reasons that we are here today because the class that he taught was amazing and he was like, ‘Get out there and research.’”
Inspiring his students and inspiring his daughter, she delivered the 60-second elevator pitch along with the others. Results came in that Kuvu Bio Solutions didn’t finish in the money.
The experience itself is what the scientists needed to propel into the future.
“We also have some really big things in the pipeline for the Kenya project. All of that will lead to more success for this because those are global agri-tech prizes,” shared Claire.
Receiving great feedback and some crowd favorites that understood the innovation.
The third-place prize went to 406 Agronomy for its Augmenta technology, receiving $10,000.
In second place, receiving $15,000 was Aizy Tech for its Whitehawk drone and robotics technology.
Taking home, the grand prize of $25,000 was Montana State University for its Durum Wheat research.
The Sands duo has built a tighter relationship through its studies and Africa and launching a new program.
Despite the outcome of its elevator pitch — the effort to change is most valuable.
“I'm proud of her because she's trying and she's trying to do something that has never been done before. I'm with her whether she succeeds or not.”
Kuvu Bio Solutions African research project can be found at www.toothpickproject.org.
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