After Alpha Wang graduated with a doctorate degree in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California, he had only one thing in mind—to return to China.
Not for him the beach house, car and solid but predictable career path at tech giants like Qualcomm, Google or Facebook. “I couldn’t see my endgame there,” said Wang. “That story doesn’t excite me.”
Instead, Wang jumped when the local government in his native Chengdu asked him to come back to China and set up a startup. The attractive incentive package on offer—funding of RMB3 million (around $432,000), office space, and an apartment—clinched the deal.
So began TerraQuanta, a geospatial analytics company, where 30-year-old Wang is founder and CEO. The company analyses remote sensing data gathered by satellites and uses artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to present it in an easy-to-use way to by governments, corporations, and individuals.
“Before AI emerged, people didn’t have the software or the know-how to process such enormous amounts of data,” said Wang. “But in recent years, more algorithms have come up … and in the big data era, people are more capable of processing the data, and we get more interesting results.”
TerraQuanta was one of 12 finalists in the recently concluded 2018 TechCrunch Shenzhen Startup Competition, where it came in second in the big data category.
Its core offering is TerraFuture, which is focused on agriculture. Covering more 30 agricultural products, including corn, palm oil, and rice. It contains information about the types of crops cultivated in specified areas, predictions of crop yields as well as models that help forecast potential hazards. Such information is useful to insurance companies and commodity trading companies, as well as to agricultural companies, Wang said.
In the future, the company will roll out consumer-facing applications, including measuring how thick the snow is on the piste and providing that to skiing-related apps.
Pricing will depend on modules used. For a crop map in China, for example, users will be charged between RMB 100,000 to RMB 200,000 annually per province, depending on what other maps they buy as part of their package. Data is updated quarterly.
The company began to take shape earlier this year after it received RMB 6 million in angel funding from Decent Capital, which was established by one of Tencent’s founders, Zeng Liqing. It also got a top up of funding from the local government of around RMB 10 million. It is currently raising a pre-A round of funding, seeking between RMB 10 to 15 million.
The team is made up of 12 scientists and engineers, two sales, and three supporting roles. Six employees hold doctorate degrees.
TerraQuanta isn’t without competition— there are at least two Chinese companies in the field, and there’s also a handful of big international players including the Palo Alto, California-based Orbital Insight and the Santa Fe, New Mexico-based Descartes Labs.
Still, the company aims to have RMB 100 million in annual revenues in three years from now. “What excites me more is our technological goal,” said Wang, which he described as wanting to digitize the world. “We want to be similar to Google Earth, but more colorful.”