Adam Stager, one of 2019’s Youth Innovation Challenge winners, on social entrepreneurship.
Many of the strawberries we eat today, while delicious and nutritious, carry with them pesticides that are not only harmful to human health but also threaten the lives of important species and ecosystems. Adam Stager, the founder and CEO of TRIC Robotics, wants to change that.
When we met Adam at the 2019 Youth Innovation Challenge, he introduced us to his solution in the form of an “automated service that uses UV-C light as a non-chemical alternative to pesticides on strawberry fields”. Or, as he puts it, their version of a strawberry field Roomba (the vacuum cleaner from iRobot)meant to deal with the pesticide problem on farms throughout North America.
Since the competition, Adam and his team have gotten their special edition Rumba out on farms throughout the United States. In between farm visits and UV-C light perfecting, he took some time to speak with us about entrepreneurship and social responsibility:
“We strongly believe that we can help create a better future and a lot of that is motivated by our sense of social responsibility.”
CEC: Do you think social responsibility is an important part of entrepreneurship? If so, why?
Adam: I think most successful entrepreneurs want to make a positive difference in the world and that ideas that help people are the most successful. For our team, we strongly believe that we can help create a better future and a lot of that is motivated by our sense of social responsibility.
CEC: Would you classify your winning innovative project as a form of social entrepreneurship?
From early on, one of the most important aspects of our company has been about social impacts — how can we make the world a better place for people? For this reason, the idea of social entrepreneurship is deeply rooted in how we innovate. As we have been developing our autonomous platform, we are constantly thinking about the societal change it will cause and how small decisions in design and operations can have significant implications on environmental impacts. We have also considered how our solution will affect farmers and consumers. By replacing pesticides, we make it easier for new farmers to get started and eventually we will help farmers produce healthier food for families who cannot afford existing organic or non-chemical products.
CEC: What kind of challenges have you come up against in terms of social entrepreneurship? How have you overcome them?
Sometimes great social impact requires drastically new technology. There are many ways our innovation can have positive social impacts, but the technology we are working with is very new to the strawberry farmers. The biggest challenge we have faced in delivering value to our customers is building their confidence in a totally new way of treating their crops — farming without pesticides. Despite the benefits of using our robot and UV-C treatments, farmers know pesticides can give them a profitable crop.
To overcome this challenge, we have done two things:
(1) Set up experimental pilot sites to validate our treatment with farmers.
(2) Keep descriptions of our platform simple and to the point. It’s a relatively complicated system with a lot of potential even beyond UV-C treatment, but by simply relating it to a Roomba, it’s a much easier concept to imagine working in the field.
CEC: What are some of the greatest challenges young entrepreneurs face today?
One of the biggest challenges for young entrepreneurs is finding resources and education that can help them get started. For example, we have learned how important it is to understand a problem before looking for a solution. We see a lot of young entrepreneurs focus on solving a problem that doesn’t exist. When ideas are formed in isolation, without talking to the problem owners, it is very rare for them to succeed. Open access entrepreneurial platforms like the one provided by CEC’s Youth Innovation Challenge are a great step forward in addressing this challenge because they are highly accessible and feedback-driven.