optimizing plant health: a q&a with Francis Pellegrino of Advanced Growing Resources

optimizing plant health

An innovator’s journey from idea to market can be challenging and complicated—but also rewarding. Each month we explore how inventor-entrepreneurs in our network have evolved since they started their journey. Our goal is to share key learnings and best practices with early-stage science and technology inventors embarking on a path of innovation and entrepreneurship. Our latest spotlight is with Francis Pellegrino, co-founder of E-Team, Advanced Growing Resources (AGR). Plant infections cause losses of up to 42% of the world’s six most important commercial food crops. Farmers need to be able to detect and manage plant infections quickly, accurately, and without exposure to harmful chemicals. AGR has developed Spectre, a handheld sensor platform with optical scanning and data aggregation that enables farmers to evaluate and optimize plant health.

what challenge did you seek to solve with your innovation and why?

AGR’s Spectre can be thought of as a “rapid COVID-19 test” targeting plant health. Although the Spectre can be utilized across a wide variety of applications, we have chosen to initially break into the crop affliction management segment of the precision agriculture market based on potential for impact, revenue, and our team’s prior experience. 

Inspiration independently stems from our three co-founders. I grew up in a family of amateur horticulturalists inventing new gadgets to help our plants survive the harsh New England winters; Andrew Thankson has a more official family background in botany in Ghana; and Heriniana Rajaoberison ran a high-tech farming project in South Africa. Thinking back, we were incredibly lucky to meet one another when our paths crossed at the University of Rochester.

what have you learned along your innovation and entrepreneurship journey?

Have the patience to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Although urgency is a concept that has been taught in nearly every entrepreneurship curriculum, the caveat of efficiency quickly reveals itself when running a company in practice. There are not enough working hours to pursue every good opportunity with equal priority, so patience is key to execute at the right time while compartmentalizing inevitable slowdowns so your team can remain agile.

tell us how you’ve integrated environmentally-responsible practices into your innovation or process.

In an effort to effectively structure our sustainability goals as an early-stage company, we have chosen to build off the proven United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals. A particular focus is given to the challenges of zero hunger (2), responsible consumption and production (12) and climate action (13) based on our initial target market in agriculture. The Spectre ensures food security by facilitating powerful tracking of disease outbreaks to plan damage mitigation and reduce crop loss. The ability to identify crop afflictions early also ensures food health and prevents pollution by reducing growers’ default strategy of mass spraying pesticides and fertilizers. This can also help to reduce climate damage, as many of the common chemical solutions used in agriculture can decompose into significant quantities of greenhouse gasses.

how has support from VentureWell impacted your innovation and venture?

The lessons that our team learned from coaches, alumni, and peer startups in the E-Team program have proven to be very practical when tackling the technical entrepreneurship challenges that we face every day. Even more importantly, those lessons were taught in ways that added true value to our company. Anyone can learn from “the school of hard knocks,” but the E-Team program granted us an opportunity to gain crucial experience with the personal connection of mentorship and without the cost of hindsight. 

what’s next for you?

After working full time on product development this past summer, AGR is currently seeking seed funding to propel the Spectre to scalable manufacturing.  

The E-Team Grant program supports dedicated science- and engineering-based student teams from across the nation in bringing their high-impact innovation out of the lab and into the market.

What does it take to get from idea to impact? Our new case study offers a deep dive into one innovator’s entrepreneurship journey, highlighting the nuanced experience, lessons learned, and major development milestones.

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