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UK agritech firm wins prize for global technology innovation
17
Jan

In 2013, Odyssey Sensors were one of three successful start-ups founded by Oxford Saïd MBA students to win the Skoll Venture Awards. The award is offered to Oxford Saïd MBA students and alumni who have started social ventures and are in the early stages of inception and awards up to three social ventures a year a pool of £20,000 seed funding. Last year, Odyssey Sensors were awarded the Blue Economy Challenge grant for work with subsistence farmers. Here, we share their recent story:

Odyssey Sensors, a UK-based agritech company developing sensors and sensor networks for low-margin farmers across the world has been awarded AUD$200,000 to scale its solar-powered salinity sensor. The company is one of ten global winners of the 2016 Blue Economy Challenge announced recently by the Honourable Julie Bishop, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The competition which is sponsored by Australian Aid and WWF was established to back innovative solutions in the global aquaculture sector that ensure both sustainable development and environmental sustainability. The funding will assist  Odyssey Sensors to take its HealthyShrimp Salinity Sensor (HSSS) into advanced field trials and then to market in 2017.

HSSS is designed for bottom-of-the-pyramid aquaculture farmers initially in south Asia who often lose more than 50% of their yields due to an inability to regulate the salinity levels of their ponds. This causes damage not only to the livelihoods of the farmers and their families from lost productivity but also leads to negative impacts to the natural environment from 'over-salting'. Odyssey Sensors’ HSSS addresses both of these key problems in an affordable and simple-to-use device.

Earlier this year, the HSSS completed a set of successful field trials in Bangladesh bringing with it a rich dataset and firsthand user feedback to the Blue Economy Challenge. Following an Agri-tech Catalyst Award from DFID-TSB, which was match funded with an equity seed round from eleven UK angel investors in the summer of 2015, the company established a partnership with the Bangladesh Shrimp and Fish Foundation and Solidaridad Network to test the device in 56 farm clusters across Bangladesh.

Odyssey Sensors is working with these same organizations going forward and will also leverage the Blue Economy network to find other potential collaborators and market opportunities for the product. Stephen Honan, co-founder and director of Odyssey Sensors and the salinity sensor’s inventor said "It is a very timely success to win the Blue Economy Challenge and with it comes the opportunity to get this tool into the hands of farmers who need it most”. Use of the device has the potential to double smallholder shrimp farmers’ annual income from productivity gains and  its cost can be recouped within one crop cycle.

The company is simultaneously working on two other products linked to the monitoring of everyday farming variables via a proprietary low-cost sensor network. The TankSentry and TroughSentry Remote Water Monitors are being developed in partnership with Definium Technologies in Tasmania, with the former being released to the Australian market this month.

Wayne Turner of Odyssey Sensors, said that he’s "Thrilled to launch another affordable and versatile technology that helps farmers increase productivity and reduce their environmental impact. With the advent of the HSSS and our remote water monitoring network technologies, we’re working to link them into an affordable remote data sensing and reporting platform for small, mid-sized, and family farms”. This technology has widespread use for farms to comply with increasing food traceability requirements and to help ensure food security.

The company was founded at Oxford University in 2013 when students on a mix of business and engineering programs teamed up and entered the main entrepreneurial competition at the university and took first place out of 270 entrants. This success was followed soon after by winning the inaugural Skoll Venture Award as well as the Intel Emerging Markets Award and second place overall at the Global Social Venture Competition. The four founders  added another Oxford alumnus to their start-up team before bringing in a full-time CEO, Wayne Turner in January 2015. Last month, the company hired in its first Australia-based employee, who will be located in Launceston, Tasmania, with a view to further building out its local and international operations in 2017.

For additional information, please contact: Wayne Turner, CEO Odyssey Sensors at w.turner@odysseysenors.com.

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