SmartAg4.0 Challenges Students to Transform Future of Food with Apps

Sep. 15, 2017
SmartAg4.0 2017 will be held at Ohio State's Columbus campus from September 29-30

Apps have done more than change our everyday lives, they have also transformed entire industries seemingly overnight. Uber has changed the way we commute; AirBnb has changed the way we find travel accommodations. Later this fall, students will have the chance to propose an app that will transform the future of food systems at SmartAg4.0.

SmartAg4.0 is a competition for Ohio college students who are passionate about food systems. While not a computer programming event, SmartAg4.0 models itself off of signature Ohio State events such as HackOHI/O in its spirit and structure. Over 24 hours, multi-disciplinary student teams work together to design an app and an accompanying business strategy to address major topics such as food safety and security, agricultural productivity, sustainability, and “the last mile.”

“This event was conceived to encourage students to begin thinking about how to start a technology-based business,” said Scott Shearer, Professor and Chair of the Department of Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering at Ohio State.

Last year, over 30 students participated in the first SmartAg4.0. The event is expected to grow this year as organizers seek to reach more students across the university and the state of Ohio.

“Our 2016 inaugural SmartAg4.0 was successful due to the enthusiasm and interesting ideas of all the students who participated and the faculty and staff who supported the event,” said Shauna Brummet, President & CEO of BioHio Research Park and SmartAg4.0 planning committee member.

SmartAg4.0 relies on faculty, local industry partners, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists to be on hand at the event to offer students critical feedback for their proposals. In the end, a panel of judges selects the best proposal from each domain, and one overall winner for the event.

Students work on their 2016 SmartAg4.0 app proposal and designLast year, a team of three Ohio State students, two Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering majors and one Strategic Communications major, won the coveted prize for “Best Overall Pitch.” Their app, called “Farm2Table,” would connect small restaurants and local farmers to reduce food waste and increase transparency about how the food restaurants are serving is grown. Phong Bui, one of the Farm2Table team members, recalls SmartAg4.0 as an invaluable learning experience.

“My favorite part of this event was being able to pitch in front of industry recognized leaders,” Bui said. “I was able to learn a lot about startups and venture capitalists in addition to major issues that the food and agricultural industry faces. Being able to develop a pitch to experienced professionals allowed me to gauge my ability to deliver everything I had learned over the span of only a day.”

Bui and his teammates continued to meet after SmartAg4.0 to discuss their app before ultimately deciding to disband the project to pursue other opportunities. Though he found the experience invaluable and believes others might find success with their designs from SmartAg4.0.

“SmartAg4.0 will be one of my most memorable experiences in my undergraduate career because it is so unique in connecting science/engineering to business,” Bui said.

This year’s SmartAg4.0 competition will take place from September 29th through the 30th. Students interested in learning more about the event can visit go.osu.edu/smartag4 or send an inquiry via email to smartag4@osu.edu.

by Chip Tuson