We are now entering into the fourth year of the Render Competition, in which we award $100,000 to a new cohort of 8 startups. The winners then use these investments to scale their solution within and beyond the greater Louisville area. As we’ve now opened up applications for 2023, we’re catching up with the winning founders from last year to hear about their competition experience, including lessons learned, advice for future applicants, as well as an update on what’s to come from their company.
Today we hear from Lalit Gautam, founder of SenseGrass
SenseGrass provides smart farming platform to farmers worldwide with two solutions; precision farming and semi-automation. With the AI+IoT device as a platform for crop management, SenseGrass provides semi-automated methods to solve existing issues in agriculture.
Additionally, the smart data analytics provides a benchmark to the end user for better decision making in adjusting operations. This technological combination not only brings a disruption to contemporary farming techniques but also helps in achieving the objective of making farming techniques easier, safer and more affordable. It is one of the first AI+IoT systems for soil and crop management, with far reaching potential impacts for agricultural practices, but also socially and environmentally.
What is your story?
My journey wasn’t easy at all, a middle class boy from a small city in India without any business background, dreaming of being an entrepreneur. I left a high paying job as a research scientist after graduation and a business consultant post MBA. I started out in my backyard in India, where I decided to launch my first business venture.
Growing up in India many people have a connection to agriculture, such as myself a third-generation farmer. We often see our families and friends struggle when their land – their primary asset – is degraded due to drought, storms, soil changes and more. When I came to the US with SenseGrass I saw that these problems were global.
Why did you decide to apply for the Render Competition?
The Render Competition gives an opportunity to entrepreneurs like me who've come from all over to build in Louisville. I truly believe this competition is different and unique, because you see the diversity in terms of people, products and the positioning of companies. As mentioned earlier, coming from a small city back in India, Jaipur, I was looking for a place in the US that has the same energy. I’ve always been a big fan of building and developing small cities and I think finding success in the US will make more places like Louisville and other developing smaller cities flourish.
How are you using the $100k and how will it help you scale your startup?
Winning the Render Competition came at a great time for SenseGrass, both from a financial and brand awareness perspective. We are looking at larger scale deployments and beginning to build up for global expansion. Having a resource such as Render to tap into is invaluable. It will help SenseGrass more easily reach a global audience because Patrick and the Render Capital name is something that people trust in Kentucky. And the prize money will directly benefit the production of our products, as well as continuing to expand the SenseGrass team. Social enterprises are something we really need to celebrate, and we are honored to be a part of this growing group of Render competition winners.
What did you take away from your interactions with the judges?
I found the judges very smart and knowledgeable, they were very keen to ask questions on the technology but they were equally as knowledgeable in our sector. I remember in particular some of the feedback from Patrick during the Q&A about nonconventional financing of our sensor deployment and productions. A lot of great feedback.
What is your impression of the Louisville and Southern Indiana Startup community?
Amazing, it is a very vibrant community where people support each other and are willing to help and offer support. During our only day in Louisville I made several contacts and met so many people willing to help this is a huge perk of being in a community and city like the one here in Louisville.
Why do you see Greater Louisville as a good place to grow your business?
Great opportunities, untapped market, huge scope of scale, very well connected ecosystem, easy to find customers.
What role do you see your startup playing in the regional economy over the next 5 years?
I think SenseGrass will be a role model for global startups to come to Louisville and the Southern Indiana market. We will show other startups around the US how you can build great companies in this ecosystem and grow globally. Examples like SenseGrass will be a landmark in the Louisville ecosystem to attract more startups to come here.
What’s next for your company in 2023?
The products and services of SenseGrass will help farmers amplifying their agricultural outputs. It will also help to create new dimensions and frameworks for the agricultural industry. Moreover, the technology could help in creating a more sustainable agricultural framework. These technological interventions could help keep track of soil and crop waste, which could directly impact agricultural waste management. SenseGrass hopes to achieve "responsible consumption and production", which is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals defined by the United Nations. We firmly believe SenseGrass could help in refining agricultural techniques to ultimately provide a more efficient and sustainable agricultural model for the future.
What motivates you to continue to grow and push forward your business every day?
My core mission is to drive a positive impact on the small to mid-sized farmers globally with our cutting-edge technology. We have customers in operation in other parts of the world and have received good feedback. I am working on reducing fertilizer input and focusing on the technology and business side. Four to five years down the line, we hope to merge with a company that shares our same social impact mission, who prioritizes sustainable agriculture and the growth of farmers. For the time being, my focus is making sure SenseGrass is a stable and sustainable impact driven agricultural company by providing high-end tools to farmers and companies; in the hope of making farming more sustainable, efficient and profitable for small farmers.