Lucas Frye, cofounder and CEO of agtech startup Amber Agriculture, was awarded the Illinois Innovation Prize at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Cozad New Venture Competition Wednesday.

(Credit: Darrell Hoemann)

The award is intended to honor creative and passionate innovators on campus, working to enact change through research and tech. Frye’s startup Amber Agriculture is a system of IoT-enabled sensors that sit inside grain bins and monitor environmental factors such as CO2 and moisture to help farmers monitor and prevent crop spoilage.

However, in accepting the award he said the credit should also be given to his cofounder, Joseph Varikooty.

“I’m really excited, but in all honesty I think this is my cofounder’s award,” he said. “When you think of innovation, certainly nothing is possible without the engineering bedrock to the tech and he’s brilliant in every way with what we’re building out.”

Verikooty is a 20-year-old engineering student who works on Amber Agriculture full time, Frye said. Currently he’s in Shenzhen, China, where they’ve been building prototypes of their product.

However, Frye, who’s an MBA student at UIUC, has been at the helm of Amber Agriculture as its business has accelerated over the past year. The startup won the Cozad competition last year and was named top startup at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this past year by Engadget.

Frye said they’ll be testing with an unspecified number of farmers this upcoming fall, primarily in the Midwest, but also in South America and Canada.

Frye received a $12,500 as part of the Illinois Innovation Prize. He said they’ll use the money for new hires (they’re currently looking to hire software and firmware talent) and to “put agriculturalists in the room with great technologists”.

“We need to get those groups together a little bit more often,” he said. “There’s lots of opportunities to build cool things in agriculture. That will happen more often than not if we get those communities together.”

The three other finalists for the Illinois Innovation Prize, who received $2,500, include:

Bilge Acun: PhD candidate in computer science working to bring awareness to the energy consumption and environmental impact of computing technologies, as well as creating a human-computer interaction device for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome patients.

Olaoluwapo Ajala: PhD candidate in electrical and computer engineering, working to create energy systems in which neighbors and local businesses can create micro-power grids to share electricity.

Daniel Gardner: Senior studying electrical engineering, who is the cofounder and CEO of Mesh++ a startup that uses low-cost wifi transceivers to bring affordable wifi to places it has been a challenge, such as developing countries and public parks.