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50 Smartest Companies of the Year 2020

Reduce food waste across the supply chain and have better quality control with AgShift’s automated food quality assessment

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People now are health-conscious, so it is important to monitor perishable food to ensure the food’s quality. This can also prevent people from consuming food that creates health hazards. Various factors can influence the quality of the food we consume, and some of them are temperature, self-emitted gases, and change in chemical composition. Degradation in food cannot always be determined visually, and This why there is a need for quantitative assessment for food. Furthermore, it was reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN that global food wastage accounts for 1.3 billion tons annually, out of which 40-45% corresponds to fruits, vegetables, and root crops wastage.

To maintain the quality of the food, we must assess it regularly, and to enable this, firms like AgShift are driving innovation with their platforms. AgShift is the leading AI automation platform for food quality assessment - enabling better, faster, and objective quality assessment at scale compared to current manual processes - improving the operational efficiencies of food supply chain and significantly reducing the food waste across the supply chain. AgShift’s objective is to apply advanced innovations in computer vision, AI, and IoT - to automate food quality assessment on selected commodities. Today food quality assessment is a tedious, manual, and error-prone process which leads to significant food waste across the supply chain. Automating this process enables Organizations to do better, faster and objective inspections with much larger sample sizes – thereby having better decision making capability on the food quality/grade and reducing the food recalls, claim management, and overall food waste. AgShift has built – Hydra -world’s first patented, AI-enabled food quality analyzer which can assess and grade a sample of any given commodity such as Strawberries, Almonds, Cashews, and many more. More importantly, Hydra is an AI-enabled inspector that continuously learns and self-trains with more and more data. AgShift was founded in 2016, and it is based in San Jose, California.

In conversation with Miku Jha, Founder and CEO of AgShift

Q. How did you get the idea for your business?

The business idea for AgShift was rather deep-rooted. I am originally part of a small farm holder community in India and grew up understanding the difficulties of food and agriculture business from a grower perspective. In 2016, as a technologist, at IBM, I led an internet-of-things initiative – where I was mentoring many startups on sensor, drone, and data related technologies for large farms and the Ag ecosystem. The same year there was a massive drought in California and also back home in India. The lack of access to automation, data, and insights in the food and Ag ecosystem was evident. However, more surprising was the fact that there were very few entrepreneurs who wanted to change this equation. Technology benefits from data, insights, and automation of repetitive tasks easily accessible and deployed in other verticals were not derived or realized by the food and Ag ecosystem. It was a clear gap for something which is most crucial to all of us -food. The evolution of operational efficiencies in the food ecosystem was possible with technology-enabled automation. I was convinced that even a slight improvement in automation and data insights could deliver massive benefits to the food supply chain. With this conviction, I left IBM and founded AgShift.

Q. What does the future look like for AI driven autonomous quality assessment?

The need for autonomous quality assessment is imminent for the Food supply chain. Food organizations now understand that being completely dependent on manual processes is not a scalable approach. The process has to be augmented with technology and automated for food companies to inspect more samples, to improve food quality, and, most importantly, to reduce food waste caused across the supply chain due to inconsistencies in quality assessment. COVID-19 has further exacerbated the limitations of manual inspection processes – subjective interpretations, biases, lack of access to the labor workforce. The food supply chain is in the early phases of technical adoption. It is only the beginning.

Q. How did you make the transition from Technologist to entrepreneur/businesswoman? It’s not an easy transition, any advice for other scientists who want to be entrepreneurs?

This was not an easy transition. I had to start from the start. I didn’t have first-hand knowledge of the food ecosystem and how it worked. I would drive up to farms in central valley, CA, and shadow growers – trying to understand the true difficulties of their work. The overall cause and vision of reducing food waste – that was what gave me the strength to pursue the challenges and repeat it every single day. There are few things which ideally are applicable for entrepreneurs who are transitioning from other roles:

Q. Business idea validation and product, market fit: Switching to an entrepreneur- The validity and applicability of the product/solution to solve a real problem is crucial. It might be a great idea, most sophisticated technology stack, most innovative approach – but if it doesn’t solve a real problem – then it has to be revisited, fine-tuned and optimized until it does. Especially if someone is coming up with an idea in a new ecosystem, in a new vertical, then the idea has to be validated upfront with as many customers as possible. Redoing anything is expensive in terms of time, effort, and resources. It is better to spend as much time as needed to have the conviction that one is solving a real problem – before starting to work on the solution aggressively.

Fundraising: This always takes a lot more time, effort, help, and energy than originally anticipated. And it is the time taken away from running the company. So it has to be planned for. The best approach would be to have collaborated with someone who would do this actively or ramp up someone to run the critical tasks – while as a businesswoman, you are trying to raise funds. And women entrepreneurs have to work harder on fundraising. This is a fact that should be factored in.

Advisors: Build the right set of advisors early on, industry experts, scientists, business development experts, champion customers. One cannot start on this when one needs help. It has to be done early on and nurtured so that the right people with the right skills can step and help when needed.

Q. What are the biggest barriers to customer acquisition and retention and how are you working to overcome them?

AgShift’s industrial-grade automation for food quality assessment is unparalleled in the industry. Our automation solution makes food quality assessment objective, consistent and faster at scale with digitized audit trail and standardization. However, the food industry is still mostly undigitized and has a conservative approach to disruptive technology-driven solutions; there is an adoption curve that we have to overcome. As labor costs are increasing and quality is becoming a key differentiator for food brands – the food ecosystem’s openness to technology adoption, automation, and digitization has significantly increased over the last couple of years. AgShift is working in strategic partnerships with some of the world’s largest food organizations globally – which is the proof of this changing industry mindset.

“AgShift team is on a mission to reduce food waste. Our medium of choice is AI”