A new company with ties to the Ivy College of Business created a revolutionary product that comes in a small package, but is expected to have an enormous impact on organic farming.
Big Data in a Box offers reliable big data storage and analytics —all in a container the size of a pencil box.
The company’s state-of-the-art technology solution for organic farmers saves time in the collection, retention, and use of data for organic certification, compliance, and operations planning—in the farmer’s office and out in the field. Through the collection of the big data, farmers will be able to analyze their collected data, and through the network compare with others in the industry to improve their methods.
With support from mentor Alex Andrade, program manager at Iowa State University’s CyBIZ Lab, the entrepreneurial team of Sree Nilakanta, Associate Professor of Information Systems and Analytics, and his graduate student was on its way to the research and development phase. The entrepreneurial journey of Big Data in a Box led the organizers to attend conferences and events for organic farmers in Iowa.
“At a conference in Iowa City, we met a potential investor who was interested in receiving a prototype to assess the product and the business potential. This was significant for the progression of the product,” Nilakanta said. “To broaden the research base, I traveled to India to meet with organic farmers and learn more about the supply chain and any issues the local farmers were facing.”
Nilakanta was already collaborating on a research project with Priyanka Jayashankar, an adjunct assistant professor at the Ivy College of Business. Their research was for the non-profit Hand-in-Hand, based in Chennai, India. “Our research project focused on helping organic rice farmers in rural areas and developing a case study for use in MBA classes,” Nilakanta said. “The project helped us explore our I-Corps ideas. We learned the value of customer journey that is vital to any business success.”
Big Data in a Box was soon on the radar of start-up experts at CyBIZ Lab, a consulting service within the Ivy College of Business that provides teams of undergraduate and graduate students to work directly with businesses and organizations who need to business solutions.
“When I was first approached to be a mentor for the team, I was delighted that I could serve a role in helping,” said Alex Andrade, director of CyBIZ Lab. “I work with companies of all sizes, stages and industries at CyBIZ Lab, and we regularly are helping startups with customer discovery and product validation. However, this was the first time I worked with someone with such a unique and powerful idea.”
Andrade said his first impressions of the idea was, “Wow, finally — somebody is helping farmers take control of their data!”
At the time, he explained, large companies who sell farmers their machinery, end up capturing and using the data from farmers themselves. “It has been a lost business opportunity for the farmers to monetize their data in the marketplace, or even use it to improve their own farming techniques and yields. I am very excited to see how well his business does, and where it goes under their leadership. “
In fall 2017, Iowa State University was selected as one of the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) sites, a distinction that has revealed the university’s ability to recognize issues in society and foster innovative solutions. I-Corps aims to foster entrepreneurship and innovation already occurring at Iowa State. When the highly accredited program was searching for an entrepreneurial idea that has the potential to develop into a business, the team applied to the program — after Nilakanta came up with the unforgettable name for their product.
“That led to the team receiving funding to continue the research. Our team would be part of the first group at Iowa State to be was chosen as part of the I-Corps program,” Nilakanta said. “It’s quite an honor.”
Since the initial seven weeks of I-Corps training, the team has been selected to join the ISU Startup Factory, where they would receive 52-weeks of training for startup businesses. The original team has now been registered as Big Data in a Box, LLC with Nilakanta and Ivy College of Business graduate student Vijigeesh Katragadda as an employee.
The product prototype was built using the low-cost Raspberry-Pi-3 computer, which is about the size of a credit card. It solves the issue of compiling and accessing farming data, which is helpful in making decisions. Vizmaia™ is an affordable hardware and software solution from Big Data in a Box, LLC that manages data and decision needs of organic farmers. Vizmaia™ empowers organic farmers with innovative uses of their own data and eases recordkeeping, enables easier and faster certification tasks, and empowers the user to be data-driven and efficient.
“The ultimate objective of the company is to deliver products and solutions to make organic farming frustration-free, smart, and profitable,” said Nilakanta.
The target market for this product is small-to-medium-sized organic farmers. It must be reasonably priced, Nilakanta said. When the technology is fully tested and deployed, their basic product will cost $150. The basic packaged solution is priced at $500 and is leased over a two-year period. Additional software capabilities will be offered on a subscription model. When further developed into a platform-based technology, the product package will be priced at about $1,500.
“If you are interested in getting involved with Big Data in a Box, we will be hiring interns, developers, business development professionals in the coming months. We are also ready to field test our prototype system. Contact at https://bdibsoultions.com”, said Nilakanta.
“Big Data in a Box”
- Sree Nilakanta, Associate Professor of Information Systems
- Laxmi Vijigeesh Katragadda, master’s student in MIS
- A credit card sized chip (raspberry pie) that can be added on to with micro SD cards containing data benefitting the farmers. (about $35)
- They had a total of 8 chips
- Put all the parts in a pencil box/tablet (less than $500)