Start-up of the Week: The magical veggie garden of tomorrow

.”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.

 

Vienna Textile Lab – Colorful microbial microfibres

Giving clothes a bit of color has been done for thousands of years. Dyes from nature has been used for this ever since prehistoric times. Yet these had their limitations and that meant that certain colours were very difficult to come by. Purple is a good example. Have you ever noticed that this colour can’t be found on any country’s national flag? That”s because purple dyes used to be very expensive. Synthetic dyes came on the market in the 19th century and solved that problem.

Vienna Textile Lab is really going to where it originally all started – back to nature. Another discovery was made in the 19th century: the existence of bacteria. These microorganisms can be an organic and sustainable method for dyeing textiles. The disadvantage of synthetic substances is that they are bad for your health and the environment. And the beauty of this Austrian textile dye is that it is based on an entirely organic process.

Energy Floor – Streets made of solar cells

This Rotterdam team came up with a groundbreaking innovation in 2010. A sustainable dance floor that could generate its own energy using the kinetic energy of dancing partygoers. They collaborated with artist Daan Roosengaarde and this resulted in a luminescent interactive floor. This was world news at the time and the floor was actually in place.

The principles behind this dance floor are still very much alive ten years later; it’ s just morphed into a street tile now. The kinetic energy has been replaced by solar energy, so that anywhere where there are streets, small power stations can be installed. Which means charging stations for electric cars might no longer be necessary. The Energy Floor also monitors traffic flow so that everyone can see exactly where there is available parking space. Any other advantages? A lot of street lighting is switched on when nobody is around. Such a waste! Lastly, it just looks really cool.

Revibe – Electricity out of thin air

On railways, construction sites and in heavy industry, colossuses of machines are in constant motion. These movements cause friction and friction equals energy. However, this energy is still being completely wasted at the moment, even though it could also be used to generate electricity. This is the main starting point underlying the Swedish start-up Revibe. They have developed a compact module that serves as a kind of mini-generator for where there is a lot of kinetic energy present.

The advantages are obvious. Equipment that uses this start-up’s technology no longer need a battery or a power cable! And on top of that, it might be the cleanest form of electricity generation ever. The patented battery is very easy to mount on a vibrating surface and then goes ahead and does the job all by itself. And not insignificantly, the electricity can even be stored so that you can use it to do things like make coffee or something similar.

Spaceflow – The e-VVE and landlord

Homeowners’ associations usually have a rather old-fashioned baby-boomer image. Tenants’ contact with their neighbours or with the manager of an apartment complex tends to happen on an inefficient and decentralised basis. This ought to change; that’s what they thought at the Czech start-up Spaceflow. They developed an app specifically for tenants of residential complexes that was designed to take over all communication concerning residential and communal areas. Think of it as a kind of Facebook, but only meant for people who are part of your building complex.

Through the app you can get in touch with neighbours, request repairs, read service announcements and give feedback. There is no need either for separate keys for the communal areas. The app can also be configured for specific situations in a modular way for property managers.

In theory, the app could even replace your house key. So if you lose your phone, you’ll immediately lose your house key as well. Want to make it even more disastrous? In the event you pay for everything via Apple Pay, you would strike out three times in a row then.

Grow X – Vertically grown top quality vegetables

Human beings have been growing crops horizontally for some 7,000 years now. And as this past century has seen us all of a sudden doing just about EVERYTHING differently, we’re also now seeing a trend with vertical gardens and fields. Why vertical? It’s a bit of the same principle behind skyscrapers; they take up less space and are efficient. Vertical gardens have been around for some time already, but now there are also vertical vegetable gardens. Grow X is an example: they grow high-end vegetables for the more luxurious segment of the market.

Fresh vegetables that are grown in their own region are of great importance to the best restaurants. This is what distinguishes them from the hospitality industry where imported or canned vegetables are on the menu. Entrepreneurs can choose from around fifty organically grown mini vegetables offered by Grow X. The advantage of these mini varieties is that their taste is more concentrated than conventional varieties. Grow X is nowadays a regular supplier to the leading Dutch restaurants.

The fact that the Netherlands is internationally known as a major innovator in the horticultural sector has been confirmed once again by this start-up. It is even not commonly known in The Netherlands that our small country is the second largest food producer in the whole world. And this is not per square metre or per capita. No, this is in absolute numbers. Innovation and efficiency are the magic words here and Grow X is an excellent example of this. It is such an excellent example that we have crowned this ambitious start-up from Zeeland Start-up of the Week!

Start-up of the Day: From football analysis to crop counting with a drone

Drone die wordt ingezet bij het tellen van gewassen

Drone analysis offers several drone applications for the agricultural and horticultural sector. So far, crop counting has been the most important feature. This is linked to an app for convenient access to all data read-outs.

CEO Roy Monissen (24) explains the services of Drone analysis.

What prompted the use of drones for crop counting?

It basically started with an assignment for our sports management study. That entailed using a drone to carry out a football analysis from the most perfect perspective. That’s why we followed Sparta’s training courses given by Alex Pastoor, the trainer at the time. How pressure is exerted, and by whom, and what happens when there is a lull in the play. However, this couldn’t be followed up because of the strict rules and regulations.

As I live in the Boskoop tree breeding area, I was asked whether we could be of any help there. Spotting plant diseases turned out to be problematic because there are so many of them and they are tricky to discern. With its own specially developed software, the drone proved to be far more useful for counting plants.

What is Drone analysis busy with in the main?

Our focus is on counting plants. Counting them by hand can prove unreliable. A grower doesn’t get a realistic picture of their crop when faced with unreliable data. It is also valuable information for account managers, customers and the tax authorities. Potential crop loss is detected in good time with this data and consequently there’s the option of replanting.

We guarantee margins of error of no more than two percent with the help of the artificial intelligence which is processed inside the drone. We use a combination of both our own and international software. The technology is adaptive in order to be able to identify plants properly. We are now working on an app to help growers keep everything well-organized.

Aside from all of that, we are able to create comprehensive aerial maps which can be used to efficiently subdivide a nursery. And our images can also be used for marketing and promotion purposes.

Do similar companies operate in the same way as you do?

We aim to distinguish ourselves by being able to tailor everything to the customer. Our service may vary accordingly. For example, does a customer want a map of the layout on a weekly or monthly basis? We work entirely to measure.

How has the response been so far?

There’s quite a bit of scepticism. This data-oriented approach is something that older entrepreneurs in particular sometimes need to get used to. Generally, everyone likes it. But it takes a while before that leads to a meeting or an actual assignment. Furthermore, it ought to be pointed out that the data always remains at the disposal of the owner. As such, we always have to handle the data with the utmost care and and make sure that we can be depended upon.

Sebastiaan van Adrichem en Roy Monissen van start-up Drone analysis
Sebastiaan van Adrichem and Roy Monissen from Drone analysis

What has been the biggest obstacle so far?

Apart from the fact the we are fairly unknown as a company, it can be the case that some plants are planted so uniformly and densely that there is almost no way to differentiate between them. They’re as thick as a forest then.

What has been the main highlight so far?

We have managed to attract renowned companies and gain the trust of a reputable horticultural institute like Naktuinbouw. When it comes to the latter, we are, of course, obliged to agree to the non-disclosure of any results.

What are your expectations for the coming year?

We plan to further expand our crop counting services and are working on making sure that the app can be used effectively.

Where will Drone analysis be in five years’ time?

In five years’ time, we will be an important player in agriculture and horticulture when it comes to agricultural data analysis. A company that is fully geared towards helping growers with a variety of sophisticated tools. Consider, for example, the systematic counting of plants, spatial planning. As well as the app itself, which allows everything at a plant nursery to be seen in a clear and concise manner at a glance. We can also incorporate the other tools we have on offer into this.

Read moreStart-up of the Day: From football analysis to crop counting with a drone

Start-up of The Day: Austrian daredevils tackle energy-guzzling greenhouses

Etagrow, Beleuchtungssystem für Gewächshäuser, LED

The Austrian start-up company Etagrow has invented a highly efficient lighting system for greenhouses and vertical farming. LED-based, it not only emits light, but can also create the right kind of climate.

When co-founders Stefan Huebl and Florian Ablinger first tried to make it through the winter with their own home-grown vegetables, they were using standard sodium vapor lamps. Light is essential for plant growth. It provides the energy for photosynthesis, as well as other things.

What they had not anticipated was the extreme energy consumption of sodium vapor lamps. Both had graduated from the Higher Technical Federal Education and Research Institute (HTL Wiener Neustadt) in Austria and wanted to find out what LED technology could do for greenhouse lighting. They built numerous prototypes before their product was ready for series production. In 2018 – it finally happened: their lighting system for greenhouses was now extremely efficient. They also succeeded in harnessing the heat waste from LED lamps for climate control.

Co-founder Florian Ablinger in an interview with Innovation Origins:

What motivates you?

The optimization of LED technologies for maximum efficiency in the greenhouse sector is a pioneering and exciting field. We are enthusiastic about innovative approaches to economic problems and want to be able to influence the climate in a positive way.

What problem do you address with your greenhouse lighting system and why is that so important?

The area that’s currently available for growing food per person will be cut in half by 2050 because of population growth. That means food production must become much more efficient. Greenhouses use less land, water and fertilizer than agricultural land. Yet they also use up a lot more energy.

Up until now, eighty percent of the sodium vapor lamps used in greenhouse lighting systems have been inexpensive. This is a sixty-year-old technology which is now regarded as extremely energy-inefficient.

We are cutting down on the energy requirements of greenhouses by more than a half by using Etagrow. Just one of our lamps reduces the amount of CO2 by ten tons over its lifetime. The potential savings are therefore enormous.

What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?

We see our product as a sustainable response to entrenched, short-term market systems. Our distinctive efficiency concept has so far been of little interest to profit-oriented investors. That’s why we opted to pursue our vision with our own resources.

Was there ever a moment when you wanted to give up?

With our own funding as mentioned above, we are taking a lot of things into our own hands. We have already made mistakes and have even put our progress at risk. So far, however, we have always been able to learn from these mistakes. So this hardly ever happens anymore.

What have been the most memorable occasions so far? What achievements have made you really proud?

Our products make us proud. Our water-cooled lighting system is the first of its kind in the world and is ideal for unlimited scaling. We have achieved unprecedented efficiency by redistributing the heat output. We have also integrated an online management system that allows you to control light, temperature and humidity anytime, anywhere.

So far, we have managed to cover areas from one to 10,000 square meters. In our first pilot project, we equipped an annex for growing cannabidiol (CBD) with our lighting system. CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid from the female hemp plant and is used for cosmetics, smoking, teas and flour. It was a very special occasion when the annex was put into operation.

As a second product line, we developed a small version of the lighting system that operates over an area of one to four square meters. This variant is aimed at florists as well as city dwellers who want to grow plants in their homes all year round.

 

Beleuchtungssystem für Gewächshäuser, Etagrow, LED,
Etagrow Climate management (c) Etagrow

Where would you like your company to be in five years time – what is your ultimate goal?

Over the next five years, we will be establishing the Etagrow brand and our technology internationally. We are also aiming for an annual turnover of €1.5 million to €2 million and will be setting up a new company location for our production.

Could you imagine a better or more ideal location for your start-up?

So far, our location has worked out very well. But a larger city like Amsterdam would bring clear advantages. The Netherlands has a technology hub in horticulture. Also, Wageningen University is highly regarded in the biology and botany fields. Networks are also better there. We could also do more research on cannabis in the Netherlands.

What makes your innovation better or different from what already exists?

We are expanding on the idea of efficiency and embarking on a new path for the climate system. We have also invested a substantial amount of time and energy in the technical concept. This means that our product is very well thought-out. The design is minimalist – with the exception of the luminescent part. The system is easy to assemble and produces hardly any waste when discarded. Last but not least, investment in the greenhouse lighting system can be recouped.

Etagrow LED Panel (c) Etagrow

 

Thank you for this interview.

Read more on this subject here: Start-up of the day: intelligent lighting for greenhouses

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