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ImpactVision CEO

Alibaba’s Jack Ma Interviewed by ImpactVision CEO at Davos

January 25, 2018

Editor’s Note: AgFunder is an investor in ImpactVision.

Yesterday in Davos, agrifood tech CEO Abi Ramanan interview Alibaba CEO Jack Ma in an intimate gathering of young leaders attending the World Economic Forum annual meeting.

Ramanan is CEO of ImpactVision, a software startup using hyperspectral imaging to help food supply chain companies determine the quality and ripeness of food products.

Ramanan interviewed the e-commerce giant in her capacity as a World Economic Forum Global Shaper — a network of teams of young people committed to solving global problems. The group’s goal is to make sure that young people have a hand in shaping the future. There are 400 hubs all over the world. Ramanan herself is 30 years old and a member of the London Global Shapers Hub.

The conversation focused on the role of technology and how Ma built Alibaba from a 19-person team working out of his apartment to  a global force valued at $230 billion at the time of the company’s IPO in 2014.

Ma said that the role of the smaller companies is going to grow as globalization moves out of it’s early phases.

“The next generation of globalization should be inclusive and create opportunities for young people to get involved. The last 30 years of globalization was controlled by 60,000 big companies. In the next 30 years, we will have six or 16 or 60 million companies get involved in globalization,” he said. 

Ramanan said that she heard from Ma an encouraging vision for a broader view of success that keeps the entire business ecosystem in mind, rather than just one company — a philosophy particularly applicable to the agrifood tech ecosystem. 

“The biggest learning here in my view is around creating ecosystems so that, in aggregate, more businesses have access and impact, like Alibaba does,” Ramanan told AgFunderNews just hours after her sit-down with Ma.

“The agriculture and food industries still largely operate in isolation, and while they are starting to open up their organizations through accelerators, venture arms or funds, and some partnerships, far more needs to happen in both the policy and technology context to prepare these largely mechanical industries for integration of digital tools,” she said.

Ramanan also steered the conversation toward gender equity in tech. According to Ma, Alibaba employees are 49% female and women make up 37% of senior management at the company. 

“It’s not on purpose that we hire women, but Alibaba is an e-commerce company. To serve better you must have a service heart. We have found that women do a much better than men. I think it’s part of the secret sauce at Alibaba for the past 18 years.”

ImpactVision raised $1.4 million in seed funding in a round led by Acre Venture Partners. in October. The round also attracted investment from AgFunder,  Xandex Ventures, a hardware-focused VC out of San Francisco, and Merian Ventures, a female founder focused investor.  A range of smaller individual angel investors filled out the round.

ImpactVision is going to use the funding to develop its technology further, which has been used until this point in paid pilots with a few food companies. The startup uses third party hyperspectral sensors to essentially photograph food and pick up on certain characteristics that indicate what condition it is in. In meat, ImpactVision is able to determine tenderness, enabling meat producers to guarantee the quality of their meat for premium pricing. Another example is avocado ripeness — avocados are typically sold at least a few days from optimum ripeness — which ImpactVision can measure through the imagery and thereby help retailers to sell avocados at a more optimum time for consumers.

ImpactVision trains its software using computer vision and machine learning to recognize what these characteristics look like in a hyperspectral image through ground truthing by comparing images to manual tests on food. It undertakes this ground truthing on the behalf of a client or in partnership with them whereby they contribute by uploading images and measurements such as pH data to a server.

Watch the full Interview here.

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