Frye Wins 2017 Illinois Innovation Prize

5/2/2017 3:23:57 PM

Frye Named 2017 Illinois Innovation Prize Winner


URBANA, Ill. –The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Technology Entrepreneur Center in the College of Engineering are thrilled to announce Lucas Frye as the winner of the 2017 Illinois Innovation Prize.  Co-runners-up include Bilge Acun, Olaoluwapo Ajala, and Daniel Gardner. The prize is awarded annually to a student who is a creative and passionate innovator, working with world-changing technology, entrepreneurially minded, and a role model for others.

Frye is an MBA candidate in the College of Business and co-founder and CEO of Amber Agriculture, a startup focused on automating grain management. Using IoT-enabled wireless sensors and cloud analytics their technology enables farmers to capture the highest possible price for their crops.

Lucas utilized his farm background and Bachelors of Science in Agricultural and Consumer Economics along with his co-founders engineering skills to win the 2016 Cozad New Venture Competition. Since then, Amber Agriculture has taken part in the iVenture Accelerator and was named the Best Startup at Consumer Electrics Show by Engadget.

“I’m really excited, but in all honesty, I think this is my cofounder’s award,” he said. “When you think of innovation, certainly nothing is possible without the engineering bedrock to the technology and he’s brilliant in every way with what we’re building out.”

Frye was awarded $12,500 and plans to use that money to help further Amber Agriculture.

Co-runners-up for the Illinois Innovation Prize received $2,500:

Bilge Acun; Ph.D. Candidate in Computer Science

Acun is the main inventor of three patent-pending technologies and the author of nine peer-reviewed papers. She is working to create awareness about the massive energy consumption and environmental impact that goes along with using computing technologies. As well as creating innovations outside her Ph.D. research field, she is developing a human-computer interaction device for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome patients and people with wrist, arm, and shoulder injuries.

Olaoluwapo Ajala; Ph.D. Candidate in Electrical and Computer Engineering

Ajala’s research is focused on energy resource optimization technology. His passion for energy stems from his childhood in Nigeria where the lack of constant power supply creates major problems for homes and businesses. Because of these problems, owners have to purchase small-scale diesel generators, battery-storage systems, solar photovoltaic systems, and other small-scale power generators to meet their electricity needs. Ajala’s innovation connects homes and businesses within a small geographical area electrically to create stand-alone power systems technically known as micro grids. The micro grid concept is a common one, but his technology will allow systems is these areas to interconnect and for home and business owners to share electricity from various sources.

Daniel Gardner; Senior in Electrical Engineering

Gardner is the co-founder and CEO of Mesh++, a startup that uses low-cost Wi-Fi transceivers to bring affordable wireless communication to developing countries. He thinks of innovation as being able to see something in a new light, to bring out a solution that was not clear before. That is how he came up with the idea for Mesh++. Taking an idea that was standard and expanding on it to bring Wi-Fi to remote areas around the world. And, with Wi-Fi comes educational materials, e-commerce, and many other life-changing technologies. Gardner and his work on Mesh++ won the top prize at the largest ever ECE Senior Design competition at Illinois and a spot in the iVenture Accelerator. 


The Illinois Innovation Prize, administered by the Technology Entrepreneur Center in the College of Engineering, is awarded on an annual basis to the most innovative student on campus. This year, TEC will reward and recognize the most innovative student on campus with $12,500 and the co-runners up with $2,500. This student is a creative and passionate innovator, working with world-changing technology, entrepreneurially minded, and a role model for others.

Each student was nominated for the Illinois Innovation Prize was selected by mentors, professors, or a faculty member on the basis of the nominees’ passion for innovation and work in technology. The University of Illinois is a world leader in research, innovation and leadership, and distinguishes itself by creating knowledge and preparing students for lives of impact while addressing critical societal needs through invention and entrepreneurship.