UBC president Santa Ono joins Vancouver tech company Terramera's advisory board

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      It's been a whirlwind two years for privately held Vancouver agtech firm Terramera.

      In January 2019, it made the Global Cleantech 100 list for its technology intended to replace synthetic, chemical pesticides with plant-based pest-control products.

      Then in April, Fast Company nominated Terramera's Actigate technology as a finalist for its World Changing Ideas Awards in the food category.

      This week, the company announced that UBC president Santa Ono has joined its strategic advisory board.

      Ono, a molecular biologist, said in a company news release that he's "blown away by Terramera's vision and the quality of leadership within the organization".

      "Terramera is at the cutting edge of agriculture, using the latest technologies in artificial intelligence and machine learning," Ono said. "I believe in Terramera's goals and am excited to do everything I can to support its growth to be one of the world's great companies in this sector."

      The company was founded by its CEO, Karn Manhas, a former B.C. Liberal MLA and law school graduate.

      According to the news release, UBC and Terramera "have a strong history of project collaboration".

      That included working together to test organic pesticides to prevent the Spotted Wing Drosophila invasive species from hurting the B.C. berry industry. That project was funded by the Organic Federation of Canada and Mitacs.

      Earlier this month, the UBC board of governors reappointed Ono to another five-year term as president and vice-chancellor.

      And one day before he joined the Terramera strategic advisory board, SFU issued a news release that mentioned the company.

      It was in connection with a June announcement by Innovate B.C., which providing $300,000 in funding to SFU researchers to collaborate with Terramera's Actigate platform.

      They will develop technology to allow farmers to grow more food with less pesticide, according to the SFU news release.

      “The growing world population needs more food and we need to grow food that is environmentally sustainable,” SFU computing science professor and principal investigator Martin Ester said.

      “One approach is to develop organic pesticides that are as effective as chemical pesticides, but less harmful to the environment.”

      Earlier this year, the federal government announced that Terramera is leading a project for the Canadian Digital Technology Supercluster.

      Terrmera chief scientific officer Annett Rozek and CEO Karn Manhas (right) welcomed Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains (centre) for a visit earlier this year.

      Machine learning drives business success

      As Ono pointed out, Terramera is hoping to play a key role in driving more food production with the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

      In 2018, the Harvard Business Review published an article explaining why companies at the forefront of artificial intelligence are sometimes incredibly successful.

      Ming Zeng (also known as Zeng Ming), author of Smart Business: What Alibaba's Success Reveals About the Future of Strategy, pointed out that Alibaba, Amazon, eBay, PayPal, Google, FedEx, and others coordinate a data-driven network of sellers, marketers, service providers, logistics companies, and manufacturers.

      "Five of them—Amazon, Google, and Facebook in the United States and Alibaba and Tencent in China—have been around barely 20 years," he wrote. "Why has so much value and market power emerged so quickly? Because of new capabilities in network coordination and data intelligence that all these companies put to use."

      He pointed out that with these companies, the "ecosystems they steward are vastly more economically efficient and customer-centric than traditional industries".

      According to Zeng, Alibaba's former chief strategy officer, machine learning is the key to leveraging data in real time.

      "This tech-enabled model, in which most operational decisions are made by machines, allows companies to adapt dynamically and rapidly to changing market conditions and customer preferences, gaining tremendous competitive advantage over traditional businesses," he wrote.