AmericanFarm.com

Students bridging gap between ag and technology

By JAMIE CLARK TIRALLA
AFP Correspondent

Prince Frederick, Md. (May 23, 2017) — F3 Tech launched this month with its inaugural challenge event, bringing together students and mentors to solve practical issues in agriculture.
F3 Tech (Farm-Fish-Food) is a statewide initiative that combines the public and private sector to increase innovation and technology in the agriculture and aquaculture industries.
The initiative is the brain child of Thomas Luginbill, Director of the Entrepreneur & Innovation Institute at the College of Southern Maryland and Mike Thielke, Executive Director at the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center.
Though they are on opposite sides of the Chesapeake Bay geographically, they saw an opportunity to bring together their shared passion for entrepreneurship and innovative technology with agriculture, a common industry in their respective regions.
“The tech is there, the brainpower is there, and people are here who want to adopt innovative technologies.
The real issue is raising awareness for groups and individuals who are trying to bridge the gap between tech and ag,” Luginbill said.
The F3 Tech program includes three components with a goal to support innovators, startup companies, and existing businesses with products or services that can achieve commercialization.
The first component is the challenge events, like the one that took place on May 13 at the College of Southern Maryland Prince Frederick Campus.
Luginbill said challenge events spark innovation because they bring together mentors, who have experience in an industry, with students or entrepreneurs, who have innovative ideas to solve practical problems.
“The reason challenge events and hack-a-thons are so successful is that they bring new approaches to solving problems. It’s important that the participants have a different background, because that allows them to think differently. They’re not confined by a certain thought process,” said Luginbill.
Three teams competed in the first event at the College of Southern Maryland to solve three problems: How to improve Internet access to rural Maryland and the agriculture community; how to automate counting of oysters; and how to implement an on-farm agriculture education program.
During the one-day challenge, the teams work with mentors to develop their idea. At the end of the day, the participating students make a seven-minute pitch to a panel of industry experts who provide feedback and award prizes.
The winning team, CSM Talons, took home $1,000 for a robot that they developed to automate the counting of oysters.
The prototype also earned them recognition in a national competition earlier this spring.
“All of the teams did an amazing job,” Luginbill said, “The oyster counting robot had the best opportunity for commercialization, and that’s what we were looking for.”
Luginbill said the members of the winning team thought their technology could be developed and sold for about $500 per robot.
Watermen told Luginbill that similar technology already on the market is cost prohibitive at about $150,000 per unit.
The other two teams received $250 each for their participation in the event.
“Everyone always says, ‘I need money,’ but when they get to a lender or investor, they find out they’re not ready for money. These challenges are a great way to eliminate risk and develop ideas for commercialization so they have a better chance to enter the market place,” Luginbill said.
There will be more F3 Tech Challenge Events taking place across the state this month and in June at Chesapeake College, Salisbury University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Washington College, and Wor-Wic Community College.
The other two components of the F3 Tech initiative are targeted accelerator programs.
The Pre-Accelerator is a six-week virtual program for individuals or teams with early-stage ideas. Promising candidates from the Challenge Events and Pre-Accelerator will have an opportunity to participate in the Accelerator component, a four-month program that will provide intense mentorship to develop technologies and innovations for commercialization.
“The big picture is an accelerator program that only has to do with F3 Tech. Nothing like this exists in our region,” Luginbill said.
Luginbill said the F3 Tech concept has received broad support. The Commissioners in Calvert and Charles counties were major sponsors for the event at the College of Southern Maryland, he said.
“The overall outcome exceeded our expectations. The hope was to spark the conversation and keep things moving forward. There’s an obvious crossroad between agriculture and technology. This event proved we can be successful,” Luginbill said.
More information about the F3 Tech program and dates for future challenge events can be found online at f3tech.org.