Encouraging purposeful collaboration between rural businesses, research institutions and industry partners
COLUMBIA, Md. (July 7, 2021)–TEDCO, Maryland’s economic engine for technology companies, announced today it has awarded 7 projects to receive grants through its Agriculture and Rural Rebuild (ARR) Challenge. This challenge was created for applicants across the state to collaborate with either a research institution, industry and/or rural agricultural entity to help develop lasting and sustainable, technology-enabled improvements in Agtech and other rural industries. Through a request for applications announced in March 2021, TEDCO received 31 applications from all regions of the State.
“The funding for the ARR Challenge helps to foster more collaborations throughout the state that will ultimately create more jobs in our agriculture industry,” said Governor Larry Hogan. “This initiative is another stellar example of how our administration is committed to fully recovering from this pandemic and growing our state’s economy together.”
The companies that received funding from the ARR Challenge, with grants up to $200,000 include:
- Catoctin Mountain Growers (CMG), based in Keymar, Md., is an established small business that grows and distributes plants. JumpLights, a startup based in Gaithersburg, Md., is the technology industry partner whose purpose is to provide horticultural LED lighting. Achieving project objectives means that in the next ten years, CMG can triple revenues from $10M to $30M, double the greenhouse facility size and employ an additional 60 FTEs. JumpLights will be able to double its workforce in the next year and reach $18M in revenue and 30 employees within five years.
- Athena Environmental Sciences, based in Baltimore, Md., has developed a proprietary manufacturing process for producing chitin-oligosaccharides. These compounds exhibit anti-fungal and anti-nematode properties—two plant parasites that cause billions of dollars in crop damage annually. Of growing concern is not only the rise in resistance to front-line treatments, but also the introduction of toxins from treatments as well as pathogens into the food chain. Therefore, there is a need for alternative treatment options that are safe and effective. Chitin-oligosaccharide, which are presently not commercially available, are safe and effective biopesticides that improve crop productivity when applied as a soil amendment, foliage spray or seed coating.
- Grateful Gardeners, based in Boyds, Md., is an organic, sustainable boutique flower farm, specializing in the unique and uncommon cut flower varieties, and focusing on the environment and furthering sustainable agriculture in a myriad of approaches. Currently developing a novel process that employs aquaponics to grow high dollar value cut flower cultivars, like Dahlias and Lisianthus year-round. Aquaponics is the greenest way to grow plants, utilizing fish waste in a water circulating, closed loop system. It is highly sustainable and has the power to revolutionize floriculture.
- Croppers Farm, LLC, based in Hebron, Md., is a working farm offering garden produce to sell at Farmer’s Markets. The focus of the project is to repurpose poultry houses, turning them back into productive assets for farmers and growers, and to improve access to year-round nutritious food by growing a variety of agricultural and aquacultural products, and other non-food functions to create economic development and jobs for the region. This can be used as a model for other rural areas.
- Mark Street Aquafarms, LLC, based in Bel Air, Md., is an aquaculture company. The proposed project brings Mark Street Aquafarms and IMET—an internationally renowned research and development facility—to support the establishment of a shrimp farm in Northeastern Maryland. The collaboration will identify optimized conditions and processes for culture of shrimp at high density, demonstrating that shrimp can be aquacultured in rural areas, creating jobs, and promoting economic resilience.
- Kick Robotics, LLC, based in Bethesda, Md., has developed an autonomous environmental robot sensing platform that uses Advanced Analytics/AI to collectively sense and navigate over wide areas for real-time prediction, classification, and detection. The low-cost autonomous amphibious environmental robots monitor, and measure environmental characteristics using interchangeable sensors and apply advanced analytics and AI to provide early detection of environmental and nutrient impact conditions. Impacts include the ability to help farmers reduce costs by reducing excess soil additives that leach into nearby waterways and leverage “connected farms” to share soil and environmental information.
- Eagle Eye Imaging, LLC, based in Woodbine, Md., has serviced local growers for over four-years using state-of-the-art drone technology, providing growers with remote sensing plant stress surveys. In collaboration with Willard Agri-Service, it is also developing methods for prescription spraying, creating a more ecologically & sustainable environment. Currently a technology gap exists prohibiting drone precision spot spraying of herbicides and fertilizers. Funds for this project will create technology enabling a tech-empowered workflow from drone scouting, to weed identification and geo-location, to drone spot spraying. This hi-tech value proposition will not only increase the local grower’s margin but will significantly reduce environmental impact.
“The ARR Challenge was intentionally set up to push our applicants to reach across county lines and utilize all of the resources that the state has to offer,” said Dr. Arti Santhanam, executive director, TEDCO’s Maryland Innovation Initiative. “The applicants rose to the collaboration challenge admirably with technologies developed in the universities being tested on farms, and farms reaching out to tech providers to upgrade their equipment and infrastructure. We saw technologies ranging from drone surveillance of soil and water quality to energy efficient lighting for aquaponics and reclaiming of old poultry farms for land-based aquaculture! This provides the funding needed for the applicants to respond to the challenges of COVID and pivot, rebuild and grow in the post COVID economy.”
Applications were received from various technology industries, every region of the State, and included a diverse range of applicants. The industry sectors included 47% agtech, 17% food and beverage, 13% biotech, 13% engineering, 7% other and 3% healthcare. The diverse group of applicants were 30% minority and 31% women.
“We were excited to see this program come to fruition and the diverse group of applications received from across the State that sought out funding,” said Troy LeMaile-Stovall, chief executive officer, TEDCO. “Rural and ag-based businesses experienced a great deal of hardships during this time, and we hope our ARR funding will provide pathways that are necessary and sufficient for an entrepreneur’s success.”
For more information, visit https://www.tedcomd.com/agriculture-and-rural-rebuild-arr-challenge.
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