FarmSense, Inc. and SiLi-ion, Inc. were selected as winners of the inaugural Riverside Angel Summit, a partnership between UC Riverside, the City of Riverside, and community members. The two startups emerged from an initial group of over 50 companies that applied to the competition. Each winner received $42,000 from Citrus Seeds LLC angel investors.
FarmSense is an agriculture startup founded by UCR professor Eamonn Keogh and Shailendra Singh, who earned his doctoral degree at UCR in 2015. The company has developed ‘FlightSensor,’ a digital monitoring system that alerts growers about crop pests so they can better manage the use of insecticide sprays. The company’s product combines an automated sensor with a data subscription service to provide treatment options based on artificial intelligence and predictive modeling. It integrates into any farm management system, detects multiple species, and is designed to pay for itself within one season.
“This investment will allow us to speed manufacturing to help scale our technology and accelerate commercialization of our industry-transforming IoT pest FlightSensor. We are thankful to the UC Riverside team and Citrus Seeds for putting their trust in us and for the mentoring to help us get to where we are today” said FarmSense CEO Leslie Hickle.
SiLi-ion Inc. is a clean energy startup co-founded by UCR professor Lorenzo Mangolini. The company produces a “drop-in” additive that immediately elevates lithium-ion battery performance. The simple, cost-effective technology is based on the abundant and sustainable materials silicon and carbon and designed to be seamlessly added during manufacturing in large volume lithium-ion battery production facilities.
“We learned that the interest in potentially disruptive deep tech in the lithium-ion battery space extends into the angel investment community in Riverside and that we are far enough along to raise funds from this class of investors. The ecosystem developed by UC Riverside supports university-developed technology, and the start-ups associated with it are strong and growing,” said SiLi-ion CEO Mark Hatch.
The Riverside Angel Summit, funded in part by a US Economic Development Administration 2019 Seed Fund Support Grant, was launched on September 1, 2021, and concluded with investment awards taking place on January 10, 2022. The Summit brought together local entrepreneurs and angel investors who wanted to support the growth of the region’s innovation ecosystem by investing in high-quality local startups.
Through a Special Purpose Vehicle portfolio fund managed by Citrus Seeds LLC, the Riverside Angel Summit provided new angel investors the opportunity to invest as a group and enhance their investment skills and networks. Start-up founders benefited from workshops and networking opportunities with experienced business executives and investors during the summit. In addition to the 3-month educational program delivered by UCR EPIC Small Business Development Center, startups participated in a series of pitch competitions that identified 24 quarterfinalists, 12 semifinalists and ultimately four finalists pitching to regional investors for seed capital. The finalists were then guided through a comprehensive due diligence process that enabled Citrus Seeds fund investors to identify the winners.
The final selection of FarmSense and SiLi-ion was based on the founding teams’ composition, experience, and capabilities, as well as the innovations’ chances for commercialization success.
Riverside has seen a growth in technology-focused entrepreneurship over the last 5 years. UCR’s Office of Technology Partnerships (OTP) has contributed to this effort with over $22 million in federal, state, and private funding to bolster the innovation ecosystem, helping to launch the first venture capital fund in the Riverside area focused on providing seed capital and early-stage investments and establishing a robust entrepreneurial education program.
In this time period, UCR’s OTP has awarded over $1.86 million in proof-of-concept funding, established the EPIC SBDC, a tech-focused small business development center, supported Small Business Innovation Research and Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) proposal development, and recruited a team of over 15 experienced executives and industry experts to support startup growth. These efforts have contributed to an increase in the number of quality local startups that have raised over $16 million in investment capital and government grants within the last year.
“A key driver for the launch of the Riverside Angel Summit and the Citrus Seeds special purpose fund was the development of a robust investment community to help regional startups on their next stage of growth and root them in Riverside, a location where they can thrive,” said Rosibel Ochoa, associate vice chancellor for technology partnerships at UCR. “Until now, startups in Inland Southern California had to search for funding in places like Silicon Valley, and local investors, unaware of opportunities to invest close to home, invested elsewhere. The Riverside Angel Summit is the starting point to bring the two together to further strengthen the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
The UC Riverside’s OTP will continue to lead the Riverside Angel Summit and plans to make it a bi-yearly event with the next iteration launching in 2023.