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News and Events

Lucas Frye Wins in the 2016 Cozad New Venture Competition

May 6, 2016, 06:19 by Gies College of Business
Lucas Frye Lucas Frye The Cozad New Venture Competition, one of the pre-eminent entrepreneurship competitions in the US, inspires students across the country to create new businesses every year. This year, first-year MBA student Lucas Frye and his teammates won the first-place Grand Prize Award with the business they founded, Amber Waves Grain Sensing. The venture was chosen as the most unique startup of all the businesses in the competition. “Going into the beginning of it, we never would have guessed that we would be the team on top at the end,” said Frye. Amber Waves detects moisture in grain bins and sends updates to smartphones, thereby alerting farmers on potential spoilage so that they can take remedial measures. It is deemed as a disruptive product that has serious business potential – as evidenced by its winning the competition, as well as other prizes associated with the competition. Frye has naturally been drawn to the field of agrobusiness, having grown up on a farm and earning his bachelor’s degree at Illinois in agricultural economics. He met his teammates at a startup event last fall and they began working on an idea for a wireless sensor. Frye suggested that they use the sensors to collect information about moisture and other qualities for grain in storage bins. The group developed this idea through the fall and spring semesters and had a full prototype demonstration and business plan ready in time for the competition. “We help farmers monitor and manage the condition of their grain in storage so they can get the highest possible price per bushel,” Frye explained. Before the grain is taken to an elevator, it could be stored on a farm for three to twelve months before it’s moved. The moisture in the grain needs to be managed closely in order to maintain its quality. If the moisture is too high or too low by the time it arrives at the elevator, a farmer could lose up to six cents per bushel – or, for 60-100,000 bushels, roughly a $6,000 loss to the farmer. The Amber Waves Grain Sensor could help farmers avoid that loss and ensure less product is wasted. The Amber Waves team at the 2016 Cozad New Venture Competition The Amber Waves team at the 2016 Cozad New Venture Competition They plan to keep the momentum going over the summer through the iVenture Accelerator program with the goal of launching the business next year.  “We don’t just want to be a grain bin attachment company,” he said. “We want to try to get into post-harvest logistics. Especially with food-grade corn, there are a lot of companies like Nestle and others that want to know all about their ingredients and might be willing to pay extra for grain that has that information.” Frye is thankful for the mentorship he’s had in the College of Business. “Dr. Magelli was very influential in wanting to engage in entrepreneurship, and the MBA program certainly has fueled that as well. With professors like Dr. Echambadi, I would sit in his class and take a ton of notes. I was directly applying what I was learning to the direction we want to take our startup.” Frye’s advice to other students? “Get outside of BIF,” he said. “We need to intermingle with students across other majors. Interdisciplinary work is going to be even more important for our generation once we go out into the work force, to really have great ideas and try to build something unique. Business students need to be working with engineering students, agriculture students, design students. To have the most impact, we need to step outside of BIF and interact with all majors.” Frye’s team has, of course, been interdisciplinary in its nature. The other members of the Amber Waves team include Joey Varikooty (electrical engineering), Ho Wei Yang (mechanical engineering), Xiang Wen (electrical engineering), and Tang Yang An (electrical engineering). In addition to the $20,000 Grand Prize Award, Amber Waves won the IllinoisVENTURES Innovation Award ($6,000), the Cozad Agriculture Startup Award ($2,500), the I-Start Prize (which grants 90% of funding for the cost of first-year startup expenses), iVenture Accelerator (which grants funding to student start-ups), and Meyer Capel (which gives free legal services to startups). Congratulations to Lucas Frye and the entire Amber Waves team!