This interview details Grow Pipes, an indoor farming company based in Europe. The interview is with Christer Tilk, CEO of Grow Pipes.
What is the origin story of Grow Pipes?
My colleague and I began studying indoor farming and decided to turn our ideas into a real project in Sweden and other northern hemisphere countries. We were troubled by the fact that we imported 70% of our food and sought to address this on a small scale. We opted for vertical towers, importing available systems from the US, some of which were expensive and complex. However, we encountered issues with water flow, leaks, and cleaning due to the tower dimensions.
After encountering complexity with all the aforementioned items, and with an investor supporting us and seeking to expand our operations using the existing hardware in those states, we realized it was inadequate. Via a lead supplier in China, I got a name of a guy called Christian DelPort.
For over 15 years in South Africa, he had been practicing hydroponics using a vertical pipe solution that he had developed. After getting the contract with him, we purchased multiple pipes and towers and began construction, which went smoothly despite a few complications such as small leakages. Ultimately, the system proved to be five times more efficient than previous methods, leading me to conclude that it would be ideal hardware to use in the development of our urban farm.
After booking a ticket to Johannesburg, I excitedly called up Christian to discuss the possibilities for Europe, particularly the Nordics. However, weeks later, on the eve of my departure, he urged me not to come due to the fact that the hardware I intended to purchase had been bought by an American conglomerate who prohibited external sales. Despite this setback, I decided to proceed with my trip to South Africa and Christian graciously took me around several farms in the region on the Sunday before returning to Sweden. During our time together, we mused over the prospect of working together and decided to form a company called Grow Pipes, as I needed a product to represent and he was looking for a new opportunity. We sealed the deal with a handshake.
What are the biggest challenges?
Energy has been the driving force behind our efforts, but we're mitigating it by exploring alternative solutions. I'm fortunate to have a skilled team of water treatment and renewable energy specialists in South Africa who are assisting with these projects. Whether we're working on indoor or greenhouse projects, LED lights are essential, and climate control systems are necessary to maintain an optimal environment. However, both of these aspects come with a considerable cost.
The greenhouse solution we offer is significantly more cost-effective than the indoor option on a per-plant basis. Ultimately, the decision depends on the customer's willingness to pay. Our goal in establishing this farm in Sweden was to ensure that our produce was competitively priced and accessible to all consumers, rather than setting it at a premium level. We hope that our green, innovative products will be the preferred choice for shoppers in retail stores.
It's been the energy driving us forward. Despite not investing in big advertisements, we trust that our product's appearance and taste will speak for themselves and that customers will choose what they prefer in stores. However, our ultimate goal is to make this technology accessible to more people at an affordable price.
There are a lot of great entrepreneurs out there who want to have green fingers and hands. I hope despite being a small country in Europe this could spread to other parts of the world.
What is unique about the company?
Our unique offer, is like "legos" for growing greens, it boasts easy assembly with each 50-centimeter section providing a 30-centimeter rooting space. This cost-effective system is molded in one piece, making it leakage-free without the need for different parts. With its surface-efficient design, it maximizes cultivation area both indoors and outdoors. Cleaning is a breeze as it is dishwasher safe and just as tall as a glass of paint.
In addition, it guarantees proper nutrition for each level, overcoming a common issue faced by other vertical solutions, as we drive water to every plant section that is carefully controlled. The strong design can support a six-meter tall installation, which serves as proof of its unique functionality.
What is the impact of the company so far (revenue, customer quantity, etc)?
I am thrilled every time we receive an order. In Sweden, there are housing communities that used to have their own laundry areas, but now they are increasingly being equipped with our group pipe solution for home and community projects, which is great. We also have a project in Turkey that is currently underway.
Our collaboration with the University of Almeria in Almeria has been very successful. They have proven that using our Grow pups for farming is 14 times more effective than traditional methods and also saves a lot of strain on the back since there's no need to work on the ground. Our ongoing projects in Africa, including Botswana, the Gambia, and South Africa, have passed a certain level of development, but they're not up and running yet. Typically, one project involves a greenhouse of 500 to 600 square meters that can hold approximately 270,000 plants or pipes. This amounts to almost 100 square meters and 100-300 plants per square meter in a greenhouse structure, which is fantastic.
The only difference between indoor and outdoor projects is that you need more spacing to allow the sun into the areas. I am excited about both small and large projects, such as the ones in Africa, which are massive. It is essential since Africa is growing as a continent, and its big cities are expanding.
In Europe, most of our clients are relatively small vertical farmers who are just starting and typically have an average of three to 10,000 pipes or plants. However, there is a company in Gothenburg that will have 100,000 plants with grow pipe systems by the end of this year. Although we are still under a million, we are hoping to have approximately 3 million in Africa and 4-5 million, including Europe, by 2024. One of our relatively small-sized greenhouse projects will be under 70,000, but they are still in progress and have not been launched yet.
What have you learned since starting the company?
Honestly, I believe that in order to achieve success, having a strong partnership is crucial because it's impossible to handle everything alone. This is why my partnerships with Canobi AgTech in Canada are very valuable to me. As a startup, it's important to focus on partnerships, especially when faced with challenges and limited resources. With smaller budgets, we can't afford to do everything independently. Therefore, I would prioritize building and maintaining partnerships to ensure success.
How can people learn more about the company?
Visit our website https://www.growpipes.com and you have the contact details there. We are happy to answer any request.
You have to send us an email at email@example.com or give us a call to our number +46 (0)707 208810 and we will be happy to connect.
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