Ag-Tech Startup Competes For $3 M Prize In Global Food And Ag Summit

The company, led by President and CEO Jian Jin, holds an exclusive license to manufacture and market a cutting-edge, Purdue-developed handheld plant phenotyping technology.

Ag-Tech Startup Competes For $3 M Prize In Global Food And Ag Summit

LeafSpec LLC, an agricultural technology startup with strong ties to Purdue University, is set to vie for a potential million-dollar prize and international acclaim at the upcoming Grow-NY Food and Ag Summit in mid-November.

The company, led by President and CEO Jian Jin, holds an exclusive license to manufacture and market a cutting-edge, Purdue-developed handheld plant phenotyping technology. This technology enables the measurement and analysis of various physical attributes of plants, encompassing their growth patterns, developmental stages, and responses to environmental factors.

Jian Jin, also an associate professor in Purdue’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, spearheaded the development of this groundbreaking technology. He described LeafSpec’s offering as a precise, cost-effective, and portable hyperspectral crop leaf scanner.

The handheld device, coupled with specialized software, swiftly identifies plant diseases, nutrient deficiencies, and stress induced by chemical applications. Crucially, it achieves this without causing any harm to the plant itself.

The measured data is then seamlessly transmitted to the user’s smartphone. This wealth of information empowers users to make informed decisions regarding fertilization, chemical spraying, and irrigation, ultimately enhancing crop yield and bolstering global food security.

The Grow-NY Food and Ag Summit is a prestigious annual competition designed to recognize, support, and financially back innovations in global agriculture, food production, and the beverage industry. The event boasts an impressive array of prizes, including a grand prize of $1 million, two prizes of $500,000 each, and four prizes of $250,000.

Jin emphasized that beyond the monetary rewards, being a finalist in the Grow-NY competition offers a host of additional advantages for LeafSpec. This includes dedicated mentorship from a seasoned business advisor, invaluable networking opportunities with potential collaborators, and insightful tours during the summit.

Moreover, connecting with fellow finalists, who represent agricultural, food, and beverage innovators from the United States, Canada, India, and the United Kingdom, promises to be enlightening.

LeafSpec’s technological marvel was disclosed to Purdue Innovates Office of Technology Commercialization, which subsequently filed patent applications for the intellectual property, with one patent already granted. LeafSpec holds the exclusive rights to manufacture and market this technology, as licensed by OTC.

Jin noted the significant achievement in miniaturizing the technology, a feat accomplished within Purdue’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. This success has positioned LeafSpec to deliver the most advanced phenotyping technology through an easily operated handheld device. Jin expressed his satisfaction at having created a tool with the potential to impact growers and scientists worldwide.

Presently, LeafSpec’s primary clientele comprises plant scientists and breeders from universities and major corporations. These professionals have reaped the benefits of LeafSpec’s advanced spatial-spectral resolutions and enhanced signal clarity. This has enabled them to obtain hyperspectral leaf images of unparalleled quality for stress analysis, leading to the discovery of novel plant stress signals and heightened measurement accuracy.

LeafSpec offers multiple models of its device tailored to different species such as corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, and grapes. The licensing agreement also encompasses AI models for traits like nitrogen content, as well as robotic technologies for the fully autonomous operation of LeafSpec in the field. Jin’s research website showcases demonstrations of these plant phenotyping robots, including the notable PhenoBee.

Having made its first sale in 2019, LeafSpec reported sales of nearly $400,000 in the summer of 2023. Jin acknowledged that the demand has surpassed their capacity to fulfill requests, prompting plans to bolster manufacturing capabilities and expand the technical support team for future scalability.

In addition to its recognition as a finalist for the 2023 Grow-NY Food and Ag Summit, LeafSpec received one of the three prestigious Davidson Prizes, awarded by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. This accolade celebrates breakthrough innovations in the realms of agricultural, food, and biological systems engineering.