Monday, May 16, 2022

Never stop dreaming and believing

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Sabine Elsässer
Sabine Elsässer is founder and chief editor of the StartupValleyNews Magazine. She started her career at several international direct sale companys. Since 2007 she works main time as a journalist. While that time she learned more about the Startup Scene, what made her start her own Startup Magazine the StartupValleyNews.

Future Crops Vertical farming technology allows to grow crops in fully controlled indoor environment

Please introduce yourself and your startup Future Crops  to our readers! 

Future Crops is a leading Agtech/Foodtech startup operating in the field of Vertical Farming. Vertical farming technology allows to grow crops in fully controlled indoor environment, stacked on layers, at commercial scale, close to customer and markets. and  totally independent of environmental conditions. 

How did you get the idea of Future Crops?

It started by one of the founder, an agriculture, that had the vision to grow fresh It started by one of the founders, an agronomist that had the vision to grow fresh produce that are guaranteed to be totally free of bugs or any other pests without using harmful pesticides. While eating fresh produce, nobody really knows how much of these chemicals are absorbed into our bodies therefore the concept that fresh produce is healthy is not always right. People deserve to know what they eat and what do they put in their body. Furthermore, the fresh produce market is suffering from high volatiliy and insecurity in terms of supply, quality and pricing. We wanted to create more stability. 

Why did you decide to start with Future Crops? 

 My career has always been around the food industry having  worked for multinational companies in the CPG market. Everthing looked perfect until a family tragedy, changed my life. After the tragedy, I felt the urge to do something with more meaning and find a venture with purpose. I felt this would be the only way to help me cope with the tragedy. I decided to focus on challenging projects that, if succesful, would positively impact others lives and future generations. The idea to totally transform the food value chain and develop the ability to guarantee food supply in any condtions, independantly from any external factor, was appealing to me.

What is the vision behind Future Crops? 

The agriculuture industry is facing big challenges to feed future generations without continuing to harm our planet. The only way to encounter these challenges is through progress & innovation. The farming industry needs a turnaround, a paradigm shift. The fresh produce market is still very volatile and insecure in terms of sourcing, quality and pricing. Furthermore, with some crops, pesticides are used in abundance, produce needs to travel thousands of kilometers to reach their markets, and the lack of land and water is just adding to the challenge. Future Crops’ vision is to secure reliable, sustainable and affordable local food all year round through technology that would respect Nature.  

How difficult was the start and which challenges you had to overcome? 

One of the biggest challenges in the food industry is scalability. What works very well at small scale is definitely not the case for mass production. Especially when you deal with living plants of varying species, thus lacking of uniformity. Furthermore, the technology is pretty pioneering and in many areas we had to create and built solutions out of nothing as plants behave different when growing indoor and vertically as oppose to open field and glasshouses. Finally, vertical farming is about mixing many very different disciplines that needs to be integrated into one solution where all disciplines interract and work in perfect harmony. The fact we insisted to keep our technology as close as possible to Nature, using a soil-substrate based solution as opposed to hydroponics systems, made the challenge much more complex.

Who is your target audience? 

We believe high quality and more sustainable food should be available to all. This should become the Standard for food. This is why we aim our products to meet market prices and target everybody. With some products, the technology is still too expensive to meet this target yet but we definitely progress in that direction to widen our assortment. 

What is the USP of your startup? 

Their are 2 ways to look at our competitve landsapce: conventional agriculture and glasshouses in one hand and other vertical farms in the other. As compared to conventional farming or glasshouse farming, the advantages are clear. Local produce all year round, zero pesticides guaranteed, more convenient as there is no need to wash our produce, less food mileage, longer freshness, improved quality, and a much simpler sourcing and supply chain to manage. We decided to base our vertical farm on a soil substrate as opposed to hydroponic systems for  growing our produce. Mother Nature teaches us that plants need soil to grow.

We believe we should stick to Nature’s rule and enhance them with technology. And indeed, we see some advantages to the crops when growing out of soil-substrate. Among others, it gives them more stability and protects them better. It is not only about the soil but all the technology we use throughout the whole growing porcess as we are controlling dozens of parameters to optimize plant grow and our growing algorithms are pretty unique. 

Can you describe your typical workday ? 

This would be too long to answers as a typical workday starts at 07.30 and ends in many cases in the early hours of the morning after. Generally speaking, most of the time I am in meetings with the teams, customers or potential new investors. But also very important to be connected to the practical side of what we do thus I organize frequent visits to meet new technology, researchers, farmers and other potential partners that could all give new insights and inspiration how to improve our business and processes.

Prior Covid crisis I used to travel once or twice a month but Covid changed much our way of working and today I do more virtual meetings and less travel. I suppose I will get back to travel as we are know expanding our business. Once evening approach, I spend some quality time with the family and after everybody is asleep, go back to my laptop to answer email, prepare my presenations and make calls.  

Where do you see yourself and your startup Future Crops in five years? 

One of the top global leaders in vertical farming with farms around the globe and breakthrough technology that allow us to grow many crops at market prices for all, solving local farming challenges. 

What 3 tips would you give to founders?

The first one, and maybe the most important one, you need to start from the end, from understanding your customers. Most founders fall to quickly in love with their products or technology, convincing themselves they offer a perfect solution that asnwers an unmet need. Just make sure you start from your customers, those willing to pay for your products, and work backward to create the right product or solution they need.  

The second one is about team building. To transform big dreams into reality you will never be able to do it yourself. Surround yourself with top talents and the best people to fit a very challenging business environment of startups as the DNA needed to succeed with startups is very different than working for big or established corporates

Last but not least, never stop dreaming and believing. There are much more reasons eLast but not least, never stop dreaming and believing. There are much more reasons every morning to wake up and feel it would never work. Be flexible to continuously change what you do to reach your targets and make sure you can execute fast, even if the solution is not perfect. 

Thank you Gary Grinspan for the Interview

Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.

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