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A woman-led California company won top prize at the Ag Innovation Showcase last month.

Amid drones that communicate with sensors in the field to manage water, smart lighting systems that maintain required light levels for indoor growers, and IT that connects the consumer to the crop, women-led startups were the hit at Ag Innovation Showcase again for the second time in two years among stiff competition.

Dr. Cristina Davis, co-founder and chief science advisor of XTB Laboratories, won our inaugural Larta Institute “Ideas, energized” prize.

Runners up were Kiverdi, a woman-led company that converts greenhouse gasses into biofuel and feed, and Koolmill, a company from the U.K. that created a low power, low loss cereal mill to empower smallholder growers to become value added producers. A close fourth was Argentina’s woman-led NeoGram, which breeds more digestible grass to improve the grass to meat ratio, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cattle.

The 20 innovative companies at the showcase presented novel solutions, but XTB Laboratories’ product was considered to have the highest market potential due to the company’s ability to detect a wide variety of disease in a wide variety of plants.

Like finding a needle in a haystack

XTB Laboratories presented a system that “smells” disease before the human eye can see it, allowing farmers to identify diseased plants and trees and remove them before they blight the whole field or orchard.

Diseased plants emit specific odors that XTB has catalogued. They take samples of the air near the plants and look for tell-tale fingerprints of plant disease.

It’s a product that can be applied today to California’s citrus orchards. It would give farmers a heads up on the dreaded citrus greening disease that damaged Florida’s orange crops in years past.

“The first cases of citrus greening are just showing up in California. Our technology gives farmers an edge that wasn’t available in Florida where 30% of their citrus crops has been lost,” says XTB’s Dr. Cristina Davis.

Broad range of use

XTB’s innovation doesn’t stop with citrus orchards. Their technology has a broad range of disease fingerprints that can be applied to many crops.

“The value for XTB is that they are building a library of disease ‘odor profiles,’” says Claire Kinlaw, director of Larta Institute’s ag practice. “The hardware for the system is available, but the algorithm they wrote, alongside their library of plant disease identifiers was impressive. I suspect this is what gave them the edge over the other startups.”

“Ideas, energized” prize

XTB Laboratories will receive $10k from Larta Institute, the non-profit science and technology-based accelerator. Along with the prize comes Larta’s trademark business assistance – dedicated mentoring by the Larta Institute executive team, and strategic introductions to Larta’s network.

“As experts in accelerating innovation, we are well aware that $10k is a drop in the bucket for most companies, but for startups it’s enough to cover a project that grant money might not pay for, such as a website design, or marketing materials,” says Larta’s President and COO Constanza Pachon. “We’re looking forward to helping XTB achieve a successful commercial exit,” she added.

All 20 companies at Ag Innovation Showcase were judged on the novelty of their innovation, commercial potential, potential to disrupt the status quo, and showmanship. Judges were drawn from Larta’s Ag Innovation Showcase’s Advisory Committee, and other technology and business experts.