Startup Stories: How Phytoponics wants to boost hydroponics in agriculture
“Make fresh produce abundant”. This is the mission of UK-based startup Phytoponics Limited. The AgTech company founded in Cardiff in 2016 offers an affordable, sustainable and scalable hydroponics system. In autumn 2016 the company was accepted into the accelerator Startupbootcamp Foodtech in Rome, Italy. We talked do Co-Founder Adam Dixon about the story and vision behing Phytoponics.
Dear Adam, thank you for sharing some insights about Phytoponics. In a nutshell: what does Phytoponics do and what problems do you solve?
Phytoponics is a British startup in the ag-tech sector, we’ve invented a commercial hydroponic growing system for fresh produce. Our new inflatable technology solves problems in high system cost, as Phytoponics is unique and gives a high return on investment for our customers growing fresh produce.
How did you come up with the idea for your hydroponics system? Is there a story behind it?
I started with study of hydroponics systems, where I found major problems; finding the cost of existing systems too high and traditional soil systems inefficient with a lack of control of growing factors. The solution became apparent, a mass manufactured system to reduce cost with many integrated features. That is how Phytoponics came about.
What are the major upsides of growing plants without soil?
The upsides are increased productivity, more crops in less space with increased quality with higher yield. Another benefit is resource efficiency, hydroponics uses ten times less land and water. With a hydroponic system, you can also control the amount of nutrients efficiently so it is more environmentally friendly with less waste.
What do you expect to be the biggest challenge for you in the upcoming months?
Upscaling manufacture and closing our funding round.
You are based in Cardiff and Rome. How important is a European cooperation to successfully transform agriculture?
Being both in the UK and Italy is essential as our primary target market is Europe. Being in two places means we get the innovation support of UK and Europe and also market access.
What are your plans for the future? What milestones do you want to reach next?
To become a leading provider for hydroponic systems for our target crops, firstly, vine; including tomatoes, aubergines, and peppers within 3 years. Our short term goal is to close our close funding round fully within six months for £550K.
What makes the area of Agtech attractive to you personally?
Because I like horticulture, which is an industry required around the world for food. It’s also a very important sector to work in ethically through feeding people. Personally, I am very interested in sustainability, resources and food which is all involved with hydroponics. Having a background in engineering, there are also the technological challenges to get to grips with, which is interesting.
How do you perceive the current situation of the “Agtech-sector”? Are we on the right track or do you see certain obstacles ahead?
There are lots of benefits from precision agriculture and the digitization of certain things. In terms of challenges, investors in the sector might not have a full appreciation of actual agriculture. An obstacle we are overcoming is improving the user friendliness of the tech to appeal to more traditional users who are using traditional but reliable methods.
What do you think are the most relevant technologies to disrupt agriculture in the future?
Other than hydroponics, which we believe to be the most disruptive when offered at low cost, technologies are; Crop development – breeding crops making them easier to grow and that are more nutritious, with new tastes so that more people can enjoy healthier fresher produce.
How do you judge the overall career opportunities in the agtech-sector?
There are lots of career opportunities in this sector, especially with machine learning, digital technology and service provision. Machine learning is the biggest skill that can give benefit to students or graduates, which links to coding and programming, mathematics, logic philosophy and engineering.
What advice would you give graduates who want to join the agtech-industry or an agtech-startup?
Be prepared for hard work, the ag-tech sector is not as simple as digital service start-ups, you have to deal with lots of variables: environment, plants, animals, weather conditions and people. Although some farmers do, many don’t use much new technology. Ag-tech is a multivariable industry to get in it takes tenacity and empathy for users as well as scientific understanding.
Which three qualities should someone have that wants to pursue an “agtech-career”?
Tenacity – Ag-tech is a hard sector to get into and succeed in, be prepared to work long hours, with blood sweat and tears.
Curiosity – be persistent in understanding everything, from finance to detail. If you are not curious and motivated to learn it won’t work.
Pragmatic – you can have grand ideas and concepts, but in making them work which such multivariable conditions you need to start small and build up gradually.
Adam Dixon, thank you very much for this interview!
Phytoponics Limited is an AgTech company founded in Cardiff, United Kingdom in October 2016 to commercialise a new patented hydroponic growing system.
The system was invented by Adam Dixon after 12 years of hydroponic growing experience, and further develop innovative solutions for world hunger, sustainability, and economic & social empowerment.
A talented design engineer by education, Adam has been exploring horticulture from a young age and invented the Phytoponics system as a solution for commercial growers.
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