Some are calling this era the Anthropocene: the epoch of human influence on the Earth on a planetary scale.

It’s fertile ground for transformative thinking, and the open data that is now available thanks to governments seeking to be more transparent can be at the centre of creative solutions to some of the world’s most significant problems.

Ketan Kaushish, CEO of Ukko Agro, and one of those transformative thinkers says three factors are driving the rise of enviro-tech: “Access to more open data, increased availability of new foundational technology tools and uncertainty related to weather events.” He says that, “In the age of climate change, it becomes very important to analyze data on a field level.”

It was this kind of thinking that won Ukko Agro and three other companies up to $50,000 each and a place in the 2017 cohort of the ODX Ventures program, a national initiative co-founded by Communitech. Since 2016, 18 startups have shared nearly $1 million through the program, as they explore the potential for commercialization locked inside the pool of open datasets released by the government. Although open data is often associated with weather data, education data or traffic data, open data extends well beyond those datasets.

The four companies with an environmental focus in the 2017 cohort took four different approaches to the big challenge.

  • Kitchener-based Borealis Wind aims to help wind farm owners save some of the $100 million in revenue lost each year due to down time from de-icing wind turbine blades, with an easily retrofitted de-icing system;
  • Focus 21, also based in Kitchener, is piloting a water app with the City of Guelph that uses open data to track residential water usage by comparing historical and area usage records, while generating tips about water-saving;
  • Headquartered in Mississauga, Surgically Clean Air is tapping into the multi-billion-dollar indoor air quality market with a medical grade air purification system available to facilities ranging from hospitals, to fitness facilities and child-care centres; and,
  • Toronto-based Ukko Agro helps farmers optimize water and pesticide use while minimizing crop losses.

Kaushish says that the open data landscape in Canada’s agri-community has never been richer, but that there is still much to be done to convert farm-level data into actionable insights for farmers. Hence Ukko Agro, which “collects data on a field level, analyzes this data in real time and helps farmers make decisions resulting in improved yields. This helps farmers grow more crops while optimizing crop inputs which is a must to increase our food production in a sustainable way in the age of climate change.”

The support of the Ventures program was vital for Ukko Agro’s early days. The program funding helped launch the company, “build the first product, and conduct the first commercial paid pilots. We are very thankful to Communitech for believing in us in our early days.”

Greater access to open data and new technological tools will be transformative for the agricultural sector because these tools “have the power to drive decision-making in real time, ensuring that farmers are able to better grow their crops,” says Kaushish.

He, and other entrepreneurs, see a bright future for enviro-tech: “I am bullish of increased adoption of environment tech in Canada.” But he is looking for more government commitment: “the federal and provincial governments will need to work closely with the farmers and startups to mitigate adoption risk and to reward farmers for adopting such beneficial new technologies.”

A key influencer with governments to facilitate that engagement is Communitech, with its depth of expertise in data-driven innovation. To learn more about Communitech and how it can help your company realize opportunities and insights, visit communitech.ca/data.