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Alfredo Costilla-Reyes stands in front of building with several windows in a grey suit and blue shirt giving thumbs up with a smile.

Alfredo Costilla-Reyes, a graduate student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering has been named the 2017-18 Kirchner Food Fellow.

The Kirchner Food Fellowship is an innovative, hands-on impact investment program that harnesses the power of millennials to find, fund and assist promising socially responsible agricultural businesses. The program is competitive and gives students an opportunity to learn entrepreneurial leadership skills to invest money into agriculture-oriented businesses that offer the promise of a sustainable solution for the future.

This is the first time a Texas A&M student has been awarded this honor. Previous fellows have represented institutions such as Columbia University, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Costilla-Reyes was awarded the fellowship for demonstrating his academic research and entrepreneurial initiative in BitGrange, a startup company that he founded last year. The company is an educational platform that connects agriculture to the internet via smartphone applications. At BitGrange, Costilla-Reyes has developed an intelligent prototype that combines electrical engineering and the "internet of things" in agriculture to grow vegetables and flowers indoors.

Costilla-Reyes collaborated with Dr. Edgar Sánchez-Sinencio, Distinguished Professor, TI Jack Kilby Chair Professor and leader of the Analog and Mixed-Signal group in the electrical and computer engineering department, and Dr. Kim Dooley, associate dean for academic operations in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M.

“Alfredo is a very bright student and his hands-on approach to solve problems and innovate is his forte,” said Sanchez-Sinencio.

“Alfredo has exhibited a superior understanding of innovation and design, creating a prototype to provide education and access to primary food sources in any living condition,” said Dooley. “As a Ph.D. student in the College of Engineering, he has brought his technical knowledge together with his passion to make a difference.”

Costilla-Reyes will be awarded $10,000 to support his research in energy-efficient power management circuits and energy harvesting systems for agriculture and bioelectrochemical process applications in emerging agricultural technologies during his tenure as Kirchner Food Fellow. As a fellow, he will gain venture capital and merchant banking leadership skills necessary to drive positive global sustainability efforts for future generations.

“It still amazes me how a small project that I sketched during the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Grand Challenges Challenge Competition has helped me to go to places I never thought I would be able to go,” said Costilla-Reyes. “I got the opportunity to be a part of an elite group of individuals who care about solve the world's most challenging issues in food and agriculture,” said Costilla-Reyes.

The Grand Challenges Challenge Competition (GC3) is a team-based competition in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences that tasks teams of interdisciplinary Aggies to develop a solution to one of its five grand challenges. Costilla-Reyes was recruited to represent a team in the competition to help identify an innovative solution to a wicked problem.

Costilla-Reyes attributes his success and desire to develop a sustainable solution to world’s agricultural needs through engineering to his participation in Thought For Food Challenge in Amsterdam.

“Through GC3 and Thought for Food Challenges, I got the opportunity to meet with leaders and entrepreneurs from around the world who were committed to solving the world hunger problems through creative solutions,” said Costilla-Reyes. “I learned how the way we communicate our engineering ideas and projects are as valuable as the research itself.”

Entrepreneurship is nothing new to Costilla-Reyes. In 2009, an undergraduate Costilla-Reyes cofounded Microtecnologias CReA where he led the design and development of an electronic tablet to improve production processes for small and medium business in Toluca Area, México.

Costilla-Reyes received his bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering from Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México in 2010 and began his Ph.D. program at Texas A&M in 2013.

Last month, he was nominated for the Mexico National Youth Award in the Entrepreneurial Ingenuity category competing against two other Mexican students. It is the highest award given to Mexico’s youth by the government of Mexico. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will present the award to the recipient of the award at a reception in Mexico City. The results of the competition will be announced in the coming weeks. More information about Costilla-Reyes’ startup can be found here.