Rev Hardware Accelerator Team Brings Innovation to Vertical Farming
Most Hardware Accelerator teams are 3-5 people. This summer, though, one team is a little — OK, a lot bigger.
The Cornell iGEM team, comprised of 32 undergraduate students, has the lofty motivation to save the world through synthetic biology. Divided between several different sub-groups, the whole team works throughout the year to prepare for a major iGEM competition in the Fall.
The large bioengineering team of students came in with more unique scientific research than any other team participating in the 2017 Hardware Accelerator. The team developed a bacterial strain that indicates Oxidation Reduction Potential (ORP), an indicator of plant health, but they needed to learn more about business and solidify their prototype before they could take their work to market.
The seven-person Product Development team — including Mason Thomas Dacus, Sneha Kabaria, Avisha Kumar, Yeojin Min, Darren Tsai, Amy Zhong, Max Zhou — has been the iGEM group’s most involved in the Hardware Accelerator this summer.
“I never thought starting a business would be easy, but I didn’t expect it to be this hard,” said Cornell iGEM team member Darren Tsai.
How does a team with 32 passionate members narrow its focus to a particular market? In the case of iGEM, an encounter with another plant-focused Hardware Accelerator team, Petal, caught their attention. After the first Design Review, the two teams talked and that conversation helped iGEM realize there was a potential market for their idea in large-scale hydroponic farms. Since then, they’ve shifted focus to conduct in-depth customer discovery with those farmers and other produce suppliers.
“We initially struggled with reaching out to customers on a weekly basis. The Hardware Accelerator helps us get parts, contact customers, and get everything into motion,” said team member Avisha Kumar.
As the team goes on to compete in the national iGEM competition, the Hardware Accelerator puts Cornell iGEM in the unique position of having verified a business plan as well as created a prototype, taking it beyond the realm of academia, setting them apart from opponents.