Technology Commercialization Proof-of -Concept Grants Available


Venture Catalyst manages three proof-of-concept programs, which provide funding and resources to translate basic UC Davis research with commercial potential by demonstrating proof-of-concept and establishing market viability. These programs also help develop an innovative and entrepreneurial culture that extends the benefits of UC Davis research activities beyond the boundaries of the university.

  1. Science Translation & Innovative Research (STAIR™) Grant
  2. Food Systems Innovation Grant
  3. Data, Informatics & Application Launch (DIAL™) Grant

Key features of the proof-of-concept programs include:

  1. targeted funding to bridge the gap between basic research and early-stage commercialization efforts,
  2. project work conducted over a 12-month period,
  3. Review Committee consisting of industry representatives with corporate, investor, and entrepreneurial expertise,
  4. feedback and guidance on commercialization from members of the Review Committee and the Venture Catalyst team, and
  5. structured entrepreneurial training.

Over the past seven cycles, the proof-of-concept programs have awarded over $2.2 million of funding to 49 projects. These projects have resulted in 22 intellectual property agreements, including 16 startups launched around foundational technologies, and have been able to attract roughly $33 million of follow-on funding. See the list of previous awardees here and view the executive summary for the 2019-20 cycle here.

Venture Catalyst will begin accepting application for the eighth cycle of the proof-of-concept programs on January 19, 2021 with an application deadline of March 3, 2021 at 5:00 pm PST. Applications for all proof-of-concept programs can be submitted through Office of Research’s InfoReady grant application platform (Kerberos login required). The direct links to each grant are as follows:

Potential applicants can view a recorded information session for the 2020-21 cycle. If you would like to request an overview presentation and/or a Q&A session for your department or unit, please email [email protected].

For the STAIR and DIAL Grant programs, Venture Catalyst has engaged campus and industry partners to expand potential funding available to particular technologies and projects through the program. Partners include Elanco, the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences, the UC Davis College of Letters & Science, the UC Davis School of Medicine, and the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. See additional details on types of funding and areas of interest in the program materials below.


Technology Focus

IP Consideration

Project Budget

Funding Available for 2020-21 Cycle

Download Program Materials for 2020-21 Cycle

*Supplemental funding available from campus and industry partners
**All eligible Food Systems Innovation Grant applicants will also be reviewed through the STAIR Grant program

Email questions about any of the proof-of-concept grant programs to [email protected].

UC Davis Names Recipients of 2020 Chancellor’s Innovation Awards

Honoring Advances in Medical Imaging, Infant Health and Pain Relief, Plus Commitment to Building Aggie Square

Recipients of 2020 Chancellor’s Innovation Awards

Original post:

The University of California, Davis, today (June 15) named the recipients of the 2020 Chancellor’s Innovation Awards. The awards recognize faculty, project teams and community partners for their work, dedication and success in improving the lives of others and addressing the needs of our global society through innovative solutions.

“Research universities like UC Davis play a critical role in advancing innovative solutions for the global community that not only stimulate our economy but create a better quality of life,” Chancellor Gary S. May said. “The recipients of this year’s awards demonstrate the impact of reaching beyond what is expected to deliver game-changing innovations that address some of the world’s most critical issues.”

The awards comprise Innovator of the Year, Innovative Community Partner and Lifetime Achievement in Innovation. The program is managed by the Office of Research.

“Some of the greatest examples of bold innovation emerge when experts from different disciplines work together to solve a problem,” said Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for research. “Many of the recipients for this year’s awards illustrate just how effective those collaborations can be.”

Read more..

Research Inspired by ‘Water Bears’ Leads to Innovations in Medicine, Food Preservation and Blood Storage

The study of microscopic tardigrades, also known as water bears, lead John Crowe and Lois Crowe to groundbreaking discoveries about the unique properties of a simple sugar known as trehalose. The Crowes’ method of preservation using trehalose allows the drug AmBisome® to be safely rehydrated after freeze drying.

The study of microscopic tardigrades, also known as water bears, lead John Crowe and Lois Crowe to groundbreaking discoveries about the unique properties of a simple sugar known as trehalose. The Crowes’ method of preservation using trehalose allows the drug AmBisome® to be safely rehydrated after freeze drying. (Carl Johansson/UC Davis Bohart Museum)

When John Crowe and his wife Lois Crowe were researching tardigrades in the 1970s and 1980s,  nobody knew much about how the speck-sized organisms — also known as water bears — were able to dry up completely, survive for years, and then somehow revive within a few hours when back in water.

Other organisms can do this as well. Brine shrimp, certain nematodes, baker’s yeast, and some desert plants can dry up for years and come back to life when there is water. The mechanism for this trick, though, was a mystery.

John was a professor in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Lois wasa biophysicist in the UC Davis departments of Zoology and of Molecular and Cellular Biology. Together with their students and postdocs, they set out to discover how these organisms are able to survive in a desiccated form for years.

What they found is that nearly all these organisms produce a simple sugar known as trehalose. They also found that the organisms convert as much as 20 percent of their dry weight to trehalose before they can be dried.

The Crowes were able to show that trehalose acts as a water replacement — protecting cells by preventing cell membranes from falling apart and stabilizing proteins and nucleic acids in the dry state.

Their discoveries about the cell-protecting abilities of trehalose opened the door for a wide range of new innovations in food preservation, medicine and blood storage.

Read more…

14 New Startups Emerge From UC Davis Innovations

4 New Startups Emerge From UC Davis Innovations

Technologies developed at the University of California, Davis, enabled the foundation of 14 startup companies during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019.

“Research universities like UC Davis are a key source of vital innovation for numerous industries,” said Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for research at UC Davis. “These startups are undertaking the important first steps in developing and refining the commercial potential of their inventions. It’s exciting to see such a wide range of entrepreneurial undertakings based on our campus innovations.”

Several of the startups are focused on technology solutions addressing important societal needs, including data management for the agriculture industry, software for fraud prevention, and distributed and immutable ledger technology for vital records such as birth certificates.

Many are developing potential solutions to address serious health challenges.

Delix Therapeutics, founded by David Olson, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, is an example of such a company. It is investigating whether neural plasticity-promoting drugs could lead to new treatments for depression, anxiety and related disorders without the unwanted hallucinogenic effects of such molecules.

Read more…

Explorer team selected by Physics World as one of the Top 10 Breakthroughs in 2018

Original post:

Editor Tami Freeman of Physics World chose the EXPLORER total-body PET system as one of her top-five “Breakthroughs of the Year,” and the publication’s entire editorial team named EXPLORER among its top-10 2018 breakthroughs:

“The EXPLORER PET/CT scanner – the world’s first medical imaging system that can capture a 3D image of the entire human body simultaneously – has produced its first human images. Developed by UC Davis scientists and a multi-institutional consortium, EXPLORER can scan up to 40 times faster, or use up to 40 times less radiation dose, than current PET systems, making it possible to conduct repeated studies in an individual, or dramatically reduce dose in paediatric studies. The high-sensitivity scanner can also create movies that track radiolabelled drugs as they move around the body.”

Editors based their annual choices on three criteria:

  • Significant advance in knowledge or understanding
  • Importance of work for scientific progress and/or development of real-world applications
  • Of general interest to Physics World readers.

Read Freeman’s article and the top-10 article in their entireties.

Bayer Collaborates with UC Davis Venture Catalyst to Support Regional Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Bayer Collaborates with UC Davis Venture Catalyst to Support Regional Innovation and Entrepreneurship

The University of California, Davis announced today a strategic collaboration agreement with Bayer Crop Science to foster innovation and economic development in the Sacramento region by providing dedicated facility support for university-affiliated startups — particularly those in the areas of agriculture and food-related technologies.

Located within Bayer’s West Sacramento Innovation Hub for Crop Science, the 3,000 square-foot CoLaborator is designed to house and foster innovative new ventures to transform modern agriculture.  It consists of a flexible floor plan that has the capacity for eight to ten researchers and provides basic equipment for agtech startups to quickly begin putting their ideas to the test.  San Francisco-bred Biome Makers, Inc., a rising startup in the field of microbiomes, is the CoLaborator’s first tenant and chose West Sacramento over the Bay Area as their headquarters

“Working with Bayer provides our campus entrepreneurs with another tremendous resource and further strengthens the growing regional innovation ecosystem,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor of Research and executive director of Venture Catalyst at UC Davis. “The value of this effort extends much further than addressing the need for appropriate facilities, it creates an opportunity for entrepreneurs to engage with other experts in and outside their field and build relationships critical for their success.”

As part of the agreement, Bayer joins the university’s Distributed Research Incubation and Venture Engine (DRIVETM) network of startup incubators. The DRIVE network is part of a platform of resources offered by UC Davis Venture Catalyst to support the successful translation of research and new technologies emerging from the university into new commercial ventures. Venture Catalyst is part of the Technology Management and Corporate Relations division of the UC Davis Office of Research.

“We are thrilled to be working with the University of California, Davis to help grow new ventures with the possibility to transform modern agriculture,” said Jon Margolis, Head of Research and Technologies BLX.  “While we at Bayer are proud of the advances in our own laboratories, we recognize that the challenges today’s growers face will require an open innovation strategy that taps into the larger scientific community.”

About UC Davis

UC Davis is a global community of individuals united to better humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the California state capital, UC Davis has more than 35,000 students, an annual research budget of over $780 million and a comprehensive health system. The university offers 102 undergraduate majors and 99 graduate programs through four colleges and six professional schools.

About Venture Catalyst

Venture Catalyst is one of three units within the Technology Management and Corporate Relations division of the UC Davis Office of Research. Venture Catalyst furthers the university’s educational, research and public mission by supporting UC Davis students, faculty and researchers in translating science, engineering and innovative research, through well-resourced startups, into societal impact.

About Bayer

Bayer is a global enterprise with core competencies in the Life Science fields of health care and agriculture. Its products and services are designed to benefit people and improve their quality of life. At the same time, the Group aims to create value through innovation, growth and high earning power. Bayer is committed to the principles of sustainable development and to its social and ethical responsibilities as a corporate citizen. In fiscal 2017, the Group employed around 99,800 people and had sales of EUR 35.0 billion. Capital expenditures amounted to EUR 2.4 billion, R&D expenses to EUR 4.5 billion. For more information, go to

AB 2664 Innovation Funds Show Early Signs of Impact at UC Davis

AB 2664 Innovation Funds Show Early Signs of Impact at UC Davis

A $2.2 million investment from the state is propelling new innovation and entrepreneurship efforts at the University of California, Davis through enhancements to its related infrastructure, resources and business training programs. The one-time funding was received in early 2017 under Assembly Bill 2664 — the UC Innovation and Entrepreneurship Expansion Bill authored by Assembly member Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks — and is showing signs of early impact in terms of new technologies, startup companies and talent development.

“By expanding our innovation and entrepreneurship infrastructure and supporting programs, UC Davis is seizing the opportunity to effectively translate its close to $800 million of annual research funding into regional and statewide economic growth,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor for research. “Although we are less than a year into the funding, we are already noticing an impact through our programs.”

UC Davis is using the funds to launch new programs and expand existing ones that provide entrepreneurs and innovators the resources and guidance needed to overcome barriers to successful innovation and early-stage technology commercialization. The programs represent a coordinated effort amongst several campus entities including the Office of Research, Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Engineering Student Startup Center, Office of the Provost, Office of Graduate Studies, and Internship and Career Center.

A summary report sent to state officials by the University of California Office of the President contained some examples of the range of activities and related impact supported by AB 2664 funds across the system. At UC Davis, use of these funds is demonstrating a positive impact through programs that have advanced 15 technologies through proof-of-concept grant programs, assisted 34 startup companies and provided training and development to nearly 500 entrepreneurs.

Some of the notable new and expanded programs providing support include:

  • Food and Ag Entrepreneurship Academy: Expanded business training workshop and mentorship series developed and implemented by the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, focused on commercializing technologies at the intersection of food, agriculture and health.
  • Advanced Student Career Enablement and Development (ASCEND) Program: New cross-campus collaboration, involving Graduate Studies, the Internship and Career Center, the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Office of Research, with initial implementation through the Leaders for the Future pilot program focused on helping PhD candidates and postdoctoral scholars connect with non-academic career opportunities through industry engagement and business training.
  • Proof-of-Concept Grants developed and managed by Venture Catalyst in the Office of Research: Expansion of the Science Translation & Innovative Research (STAIRTM) Grants to include opportunities for graduate students to participate on project teams, development of commercialization clinics to facilitate market focus and the STAIR-Plus™ Grant that provides additional support to STAIR Grant recipients who have successfully achieved project milestones and are poised for commercial impact pending specific additional targeted results. Also launched was the new Data, Informatics & Application Launch (DIALTM) Grants, which provide targeted funding for software and data informatics projects with commercial potential.
  • Creator Challenge Series: New undergraduate student maker competition organized by the Engineering Student Startup Center in the College of Engineering, as a four-phase event with supplemental skill-building workshops for student entrepreneurs, culminated in an event where teams presented in a competition for proof-of-concept funding.
  • Distributed Research Incubation & Venture Engine (DRIVETM) Network: Expanded research and development capabilities within the Venture Catalyst DRIVE Network comprising business incubation facilities available to university-affiliated startups and community-based entrepreneurs, by placing 10 pieces of technical equipment that enhance targeted areas for developing companies. The newly available equipment has helped to catalyze a new partnership with The Urban Hive and I/O Labs, an expanded partnership with HM.CLAUSE, and the move to a new facility for Inventopia, all of which significantly expands the capabilities of campus innovators, university-affiliated startups and local companies.
  • Discounted Access to Research Translation Services (DARTSTM) Program: New program that provides startups participating in Venture Catalyst’s Smart Toolkit for Accelerated Research Translation (START™) program access to state-of-the-art services and equipment at designated UC Davis core research facilities at competitive rates designed to address the capital constraints of startups. A complementary program was also launched for participants in the DRIVE network with access to credits to be used at DARTS core facilities.

A good example of the how these programs are helping campus entrepreneurs develop solutions that address societal needs is the progress of Tony Simon, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and co-founder of Cognivive, who is developing video games that act as “digital medicines” with the initial objective of treating children with cognitive impairments. Simon, one of three recipients of the STAIR-Plus Grants, was awarded $20,000 in funding to further advance his technology beyond early proof-of-concept stage.

“AB 2664 funds have been instrumental in helping us advance our digital treatment prototypes towards efficacy and commercialization by helping us move the early, desktop computer versions of our neurotherapeutic video games to a virtual reality delivery platform that allows us to much more directly impact the neurocognitive systems whose functioning we aim to improve.” Simon said. “On top of that development work, the ongoing commercialization clinics and business training workshops we are participating in, are ensuring that we don’t just develop really effective treatments but that we also are best prepared to actually get them to those people who really need them.”

Another example of the direct impact of these programs is the work of an undergraduate team of students that received the first place prize in the Creator Challenge Series. The team, named JAPA, short for Just a Parking App, developed a solution that provides real‐time parking spot availability and navigation to drivers via an app. “With the prize money, the team and I were able to push our product further by ordering the necessary components that we would not have normally had the money to buy,” said Mathew Magno of JAPA. “Since then, we have been testing and developing two types of sensors for JAPA and we have progressed tremendously.”

Plans to utilize the funding run through 2019, with the majority to be disbursed through the 2018 fiscal year. Some of the new programs that will be implemented include the Little Bang! student oriented micro-grant poster competition that is launching in conjunction with the Big Bang! Business Competition, the Central Valley Entrepreneurship Academy that is launching in partnership with UC Merced in the fall and the Aggie Innovation and Startup Symposium which will include workshops with content addressing the experiences of underrepresented populations and include speakers from the region who can serve as role models and mentors.

For more information on how funds from AB 2664 are being used at UC Davis or opportunities to participate in the related programs, please contact [email protected].

UC Davis to enhance campus innovation and entrepreneurship with $2.2 million from State Innovation & Entrepreneurship Expansion Bill, AB 2664


UC Davis-HM.CLAUSE Life Science Innovation Center is one of several business incubators to foster regional innovation.

UC Davis announced today its receipt of $2.2 million in one-time funding from Assembly Bill 2664, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Expansion bill authored by Assembly member Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, and signed last fall by Governor Jerry Brown. AB 2664 is designed to propel new innovation and entrepreneurship efforts across the University of California through investments in infrastructure, incubators and entrepreneurship education programs. Each of UC’s 10 campuses will receive $2.2 million in one-time funding through this legislative initiative.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship are central to all that we do,” said Ralph Hexter, interim chancellor of UC Davis. “I am excited by this support from the Governor and Legislature that will enable us to launch new programs and expand university infrastructure with the potential to transformatively impact the California economy.”

UC Davis plans to expand its economic engagement activities and collaborations with community stakeholders to enhance the local and regional ecosystem that support innovation and entrepreneurship. With a focus on synergies between the overlapping strengths of the university, region and state, key areas of UC Davis’ AB 2664 program focus include:

  • Expansion of proof-of-concept grant programs to demonstrate commercial feasibility for university technology and boost innovation across a wide range of disciplines
  • Business training and mentorship programs focused on building workforce skills and practical experience in business, entrepreneurship, technology commercialization and startup development
  • Incubator and accelerator programs that provide work and lab space, research and development equipment and instrumentation, and support resources for entrepreneurs.

“AB 2664 funding is important because it allows us to amplify, expand and sustain the success of our uniquely collaborative programs at UC Davis, which enable campus innovators and the entrepreneurial community to interact effectively for regional economic impact,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor for research, and executive director of Venture Catalyst at UC Davis.

“Bolstered by this forward-looking legislative initiative, we can expect to strengthen our partnerships with community stakeholders, enlarge our network of incubator facilities, enhance our entrepreneurial training programs and workshops, and expand resources within the regional innovation and startup ecosystem so as to support broader regional economic development initiatives,” Pathak said.

Managed within the UC Davis Office of Research, program implementation will be driven by the strong collaborative relationship between UC Davis Venture Catalyst and the Mike and Renee Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management.

The state’s investment will be allocated to support new and expanded activities and programs that will provide direct benefit to campus innovators and entrepreneurs across all disciplines, schools and colleges, as well as to local entrepreneurs whose research can be expected to result in regional economic impact.

Funded programs will be aligned with One Health and Engineering synergies being realized at UC Davis, thereby creating opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs in disciplines encompassing human health, agriculture, animal health and engineering. Fund allocation will also be extended to existing programs specifically serving the undergraduate community, graduate students and postdoctoral trainees.

Aijun Wang and team

Aijun Wang received the STAIR Grant in 2015. This is one of many programs that will be expanded.

The integration of underrepresented populations in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is an important point of emphasis in the delivery of these new and expanded programs. Two notable initiatives are being launched: A novel partnership with UC Merced to create and implement a Central Valley Entrepreneurship Academy focused on regional needs that support the development of an adaptable and innovative workforce in this economically-challenged area; and the development of an annual STEM symposium at UC Davis to showcase successful innovators and entrepreneurs who can serve as instructors, role models, and mentors for women and underrepresented minorities.

“By expanding our innovation and entrepreneurship infrastructure and support programs, UC Davis has the opportunity to effectively translate the almost $800 million of annual research funding it receives into accelerated regional and statewide economic growth through talent development, workforce preparation, technology commercialization and start-up formation,” said Pathak.

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Startups with roots at UC Davis evolve when innovations become businesses


Instead of graduating and jumping straight into the workforce, some enterprising grads are forming companies with ideas and innovations they developed at UC Davis. John Bissell (’08) helped develop a method for creating more sustainable plastic as an undergraduate studying Chemical Engineering. Tom Shapland (’07, M.S. ’11, Ph.D. ’12) worked with a team to develop calibration technology for monitoring crop water usage while pursuing his Ph.D. in Horticultural Science. And Carl Jensen (M.S. ’14) started working on the problem of grain storage in Sub-Saharan Africa while obtaining his masters in International Agricultural Development. Each is enjoying the challenges of building a company from scratch but they’ve all had to be flexible as ideas met market realities.

An evolving method for turning waste into plastic

As an undergraduate in the Chemical Engineering program at UC Davis, John Bissell was convinced there had to be a better way to make plastic.

The majority of plastic in the world—from the reviled single-use shopping bag to your toothbrush—is derived from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. And a tremendous amount of petroleum goes into plastic: In the U.S. alone, 191 million barrels of hydrocarbon gas liquids (byproducts of petroleum refining) or about 2.7% of total U.S. petroleum consumption was used to make plastic in in 2010, when the U.S. Department of Energy last reported this data.

Instead of using petroleum, Bissell, along with fellow students Ryan Smith and Casey McGrath, found a way to make the base components of plastic using modified bacteria to digest a variety of waste products like sewage and agricultural waste. The concept was promising enough that the partners took out a patent for the bacteria and secured seed funding in 2008 to create Micromidas, Inc.


John Bissell, CEO of Micromidas, along with fellow UC Davis students Ryan Smith and Casey McGrath, found a way to make the base components of plastic from a variety of waste products including cardboard, rice hulls, and wheat straw. Bissell won the Cal Aggie Alumni Association’s Young Alumni Award in 2013.

One challenge with the bacterial process was it was not completely efficient. Bissell explains, “We had some indigestible things we couldn’t convert.” So in 2010 they looked for a solution that could augment the bacterial process and ended up finding an attractive way to convert the waste using a chemical process developed by Mark Mascal, a professor in the UC Davis Chemistry Department. The new process uses organic chemistry to convert biomass into monomers—the substituents of plastics. After weighing the benefits of both methods, Micromidas decided to shelve the original process using bacteria. Bissell says, “We could only pick one project at a time.”


When the small biorefinery in West Sacramento is going full-speed it can process about 200 pounds an hour of woody waste like cardboard, agricultural waste, wood chips, rice hulls, wheat straw, rice straw, bagasse and empty fruit bunches from palm oil processing.

By 2014, Micromidas had raised $25 million in venture capital to build a pilot-scale plant in West Sacramento, which currently employs about 25 full-time staff and 15 to 20 technical experts who consult part-time.

When the small biorefinery in West Sacramento is going full-speed it can process about 200 pounds an hour of woody waste like cardboard, agricultural waste, wood chips, rice hulls, wheat straw, rice straw, bagasse and empty fruit bunches from palm oil processing.

The next step for Micromidas is a larger refinery. Bissell explains, “We are providing access to a new class of material. I’d like to see the technology become an integral part of the existing chemical industry.”

Water conservation tool becomes increasingly more sophisticated

When Tom Shapland was pursing his master’s and Ph.D. in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Science there was technology—Surface Renewal—that could calculate water usage in fields but the calibration process required extremely expensive instrumentation, making precise measurements too expensive to be practical outside of academia.

“Irrigation is the single most important lever for influencing the outcome of the crop and for attaining the crop goal,” Shapland explained. So being able to accurately measure water could give California farmers an important tool to manage their water use efficiently.


Tom Shapland, CEO of Tule, developed the technology while pursuing his Ph.D. in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Science.

Shapland tackled the challenge of making the technology affordable, working with his dissertation committee, which included Kyaw Tha Paw U, Rick Snyder and Andrew McElrone. Eventually, they came up with a solution for reducing the cost of the technology that forms the basis of Tule Technologies and in 2014, UC Davis’ Venture Catalyst helped the fledging company get started.

The Tule system uses sensors and a monitoring system above the crop canopy to tell growers precisely how much water their plants are using. Farmers access the data through a web dashboard or iPhone app. But as Tule Technologies developed growers wanted to fine-tune the irrigation, sometimes maximizing quantity, requiring more water, or maximizinge quality, which required putting the plants under a degree of water stress.


Tule Technologies is working with close to 300 California growers, mostly for wine grapes and almonds, with about 1,200 sensors in the fields. Farmers can access data through a web dashboard or iPhone app and can make irrigation decisions accordingly.

Tule Technologies is working with close to 300 California growers, mostly for wine grapes and almonds, with about 1,200 sensors in the fields. Farmers can access data through a web dashboard or iPhone app and can make irrigation decisions accordingly.

So Tule added features to the system to help growers reach their targeted stress levels. If the plants became too stressed—or not stressed enough—the technology alerts farmers, who can then make irrigation decisions accordingly.

Tule is growing and now has six employees and is looking for programmers interested in water conservation. It is working with close to 300 California growers, mostly for wine grapes and almonds, with about 1,200 sensors in the fields.

For Shapland the most rewarding aspect is utilizing and developing the technology, helping customers achieve their goals and conserve water and time. “I really love working with growers. Agriculture is complex. I learn a lot from them.”

Thinking outside the bag to help smallholder farmers in Africa

In Zambia, where farming is the country’s main livelihood, crop storage is a problem. Lacking adequate grain silos for staples like maize, a significant portion of each harvest is lost to vermin, insects, or molds that can create poisonous aflatoxins.

Carl Jensen became interested in working with smallholder farmers in Zambia—small farms usually supported by a single family growing a mixture of cash crops and subsistence farming— when he was part of an international team that studied the problem of storage. After graduating from UC Davis in 2014 he returned to Zambia to co-found Zasaka with Sunday Silungwe, whom he had met during a trip to Africa.


Zasaka co-founders (in blue t-shirts) Carl Jensen, left, and Sunday Silungwe, right, with a group of Private Extension Agents (PEAs). Jensen and Silungwe met in 2013 at the International Development Design Summit in Zambia. Silungwe, holds a degree in developmental studies from Zambia Catholic University and has worked in community development for many years.

Zasaka means “it’s in the bag” in the Zambian dialect of Nyanja, and selling bags—specifically the Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) bag—made up a portion of the business plan to sell agricultural products and services to farmers. PICS bags are made of three layers of specialized plastic and can store more than 200 pounds of grain for up to a year. The idea was promising enough that Zasaka won both the People’s Choice award and the Ag and Food Innovation prize in the 2014 UC Davis Big Bang! Business Competition.

During the first year, Zasaka sold about 2,000 bags to farmers in Zambia at $2.50 each. But the price for the bags increased as the Zambian Kwacha became weaker against the U.S. dollar, creating a dilemma for the new enterprise.

“We kept trying to make it work, but we had to decide if we were a business or if we were going to subsidize the farmers,” said Jensen. Unable to cover the costs, they made the difficult decision to stop selling bags.


Anes Tembo, a Zasaka Private Extension Agents (PEA), stands in one of her farmer’s fields and displays cowpea nearly ready for harvest. The farmer is set to harvest more than half a ton of cowpea seed from which she will double her annual income. Each PEA provides agronomic and financial management training to a cohort of 40 farmers, overseeing their loans and aggregating final products for sale to Zasaka.

But Zasaka’s model had always included more than just bags, so the young company turned its attention to legume seeds like cowpeas—buying, packaging and selling them to farmers, sometimes directly and sometimes through the government and non-governmental organizations.

“We intend to be the leading seed company in our sector by volume and quality. The goal is to raise incomes of tens of thousands of farmers through direct production relationships while increasing the availability of legumes to farmers across the region,” said Jensen. He notes that this year Zasaka will process and package 440,000 pounds of seed produced by 400 farmers.


A group of farmers attends a training led by a field supervisor at Zasaka’s base of operations, the POD.

The company also delivers training—farmers who have worked with Zasaka have seen increases in maize yields of 75 percent. Zasaka now employs 9 full-time people and is expanding this May to reach 2,000 farmers under the supervision of 50 Private Extension Agents (PEAS) dedicated to answering their questions on agronomy and farm management.

During an interview from Chipata, Zambia, Jensen described the tremendous satisfaction he feels from the work he is doing. “We are about two months out from harvest now. Everywhere you look you see full fields and the bounty to come.”

Innovation that feeds the world

UC Davis professors, Jorge Dubcovsky of plant sciences and Jan Dvorak of agronomy and range science, examine wheat in a campus field. Photo taken in 2010.

UC Davis professors, Jorge Dubcovsky of plant sciences and Jan Dvorak of agronomy and range science, examine wheat in a campus field.

Jorge Dubcovsky, Ph.D., a worldrenowned plant geneticist who leads the UC Davis wheat breeding program, develops genetic resources for improving the yield, disease-resistance and nutritional value of wheat — one of the most widely grown cereal crops on the planet. Global demand for wheat continues to increase dramatically, up nearly 20% from just ten years ago (U.S. Wheat Associates Annual Report).

Wheat is a vital part of the farming economy in California, grown from the Imperial Valley in the south to the Klamath Basin in the north, and from the inland valleys to the coastal agricultural regions. Due to California’s large size and diverse climate, wheat can be planted for harvest in both the fall and spring seasons, depending on the region. Dubcovsky’s ground-breaking work has enabled researchers and breeders around the world to accelerate the development of more nutritious and better-adapted wheat varieties.

Dubcovsky and his team have released eleven distinct UC wheat varieties, each protected by InnovationAccess under U.S. Plant Variety Protection, and licensed to 30 commercial entities.

Consistent with the land-grant mission of UC Davis, wheat varieties released out of Dubcovsky’s breeding program are licensed only to the California wheat industry during the first three years following release, effectively providing an economic advantage for the state. InnovationAccess works closely with the California Wheat Commission in setting up licensing arrangements. After this initial three-year period, licensing is opened to other geographical areas beyond California.

This year, Dubcovsky’s lab released the ‘Yurok’ wheat variety (UC Case 2016-066), a Dry wheat waves in the sun on Friday May 22, 2015 at UC Davis. This wheat is part of wheat geneticist and UC Davis plant science professor Jorge Dubcovsky's wheat research.semi-dwarf Hard Red Spring variety, which offers a high-yielding plant and a resulting grain with high protein content and excellent bread-making quality. This variety is resistant to current races of stripe rust disease and is well adapted to the Sacramento, San Joaquin and Imperial Valleys in California.