This interview details Gyroplant, an indoor farming technology company based in UK. The interview is with Marcus Comaschi, Founder of Gyroplant.
What is the origin story of GyroPlant?
As an engineer, I’ve always been interested in sustainable and circular design. But it was never originally my plan to enter the agritech industry. For a project in my joint master’s degree at Imperial College and the Royal College of Art, I designed a conceptual rotating hydroponics system after learning about the impending food crisis.
I didn’t touch this project for two years, but after I was furloughed from my R&D position during the COVID-19 lockdown, I began to explore how I could actually bring this system to life. I successfully applied for a small grant from the Douglas Bomford Trust (an agricultural charity in the UK) and was able to build a prototype of the system. It was only when I was designing components for this system that I designed our company’s main innovation today – GyroCup.
As I gained feedback from growers around the country, I found out that large CEA companies were struggling with traditional single-use substrates. I’ve always designed products with reusability in mind, and I sensed a gap to fully focus on developing GyroCup for the market. With support from Innovate UK, I was able to carry out further R&D and get the innovation patented. We started selling our GyroCups from early 2023 and have since received interest from farms all over the world!
Can you tell us more about the features of your GyroCup?
I wanted to design a product that lasts rather than one that keeps farms dependent on single-use substrates delivered by unsustainable global supply chains. GyroCup is reusable, meaning that farms can significantly reduce their substrate waste (and can ditch those cumbersome net pots!) and not worry about supply chains or rising substrate costs.
GyroCup is also really easy to use. It’s made from food grade silicone, is UV and wear resistant and is food safe. We’ve found significantly less mould or algae growth when using GyroCups compared with competitors. Given its flexible form, the roots also come clean out at harvest, useful for post use processes. This all means that with GyroCup, it’s an extremely clean and user-friendly growing experience – with no chemicals needed when washing after use (we’re actually working to automate the cleaning and gelling process to make this even quicker!).
Following growing trials with leading indoor farms, we discovered that GyroCup works best with ‘Gelponics’, which is a very efficient and cheap growing methodology. All that’s needed is a small drop of gel in the GyroCup, and its ready for planting. Seeing that gels are 98% water, can be easily made from powder on-site and can be tailored to specific crops, it’s a much more sustainable methodology than current industry practices.
Finally, GyroCup’s “tentacles” provide excellent support for root growth. In some plants the root development has improved by 50%. Due to its design, it’s even able to grow root vegetables, which we haven’t seen any other growing medium offer!
What are some of the biggest challenges facing GyroPlant in the future?
Due to the nature of our reusable product, once we sell to a customer, they don’t need to buy from us for a long time (unless they expand). This means we have to continuously find new customers instead of relying on repeat business. But having said this, it hasn’t been as difficult to convince growers that it’s now time to shift from single-use to more circular systems. After all, the whole premise of vertical farms has circularity at its heart!
We’ve discovered that every farm has its own challenges. They might like the idea of our product but need more guidance on how it can fit into their systems and processes. We are starting to go beyond our innovation and ‘connect the dots’. We are developing our own gel powders dedicated to different plants, designed from the data we will collect from our customers. As part of this, we will develop ultra-precise gel formulae to increase the growth and quality of different plants. We are also beginning to work with tech companies for automation for large-scale farms.
Other geopolitical challenges such as the war in Ukraine have affected the energy and substrates markets, which means some CEA farms are struggling. However, Interestingly, we recently had a meeting with a Ukrainian company who are looking for radical new approaches for greenhouse vertical farming. So even in the midst of incredibly tough times, we are seeing farms thinking innovatively.
What is unique about GyroPlant compared to competitors?
Fundamentally, we are trying to eliminate the need for single-use substrates by enabling the use of only a small amount of water-based gel to grow plants in. There are many companies offering sustainable alternatives, however, single-use is at the core of their business model. Although some of these are made from organic material, as CEA grows it will not be sustainable to continuously ship vast amounts of this material abroad. GyroPlant offers a long-term, future-proof solution to unsustainable substrates in CEA.
How do you measure the impact of your company so far? (Revenue, Employees, Customer Quantity, Production Volume)etc?
Our product has only been commercially available since the beginning of 2023 and we are already trialling it at over 80 farms in 25 different countries. We’ve also seen our customer base expand - from farms of all sizes to the carbon capture industry and space tech. We also didn’t predict home growers would be so interested in our product, but they are! GyroPlant has certainly come a long way, with the help of Innovate UK and CEA tech companies who were willing to help. We have even bigger plans for the rest of this year (customization, tailored gels and automation – to name but a few projects on the horizon).
What have you learned that you wish you knew when you joined or started the company?
I didn’t predict how long and expensive hydroponic farming R&D testing would be. As engineers we are used to innovations being tested thoroughly and very quickly. However, in hydroponic farming there are so many variables involved, long wait times to see how plants develop, as well as the fact that each farm has different practices. There’s no way around it but understanding the timescales would have helped a lot when I started out. What we did manage to do early on was to form collaborative R&D partnerships. Customer feedback and R&D has been a continuous part of GyroCup’s design journey.
How can people connect with you or learn more about GyroPlant?
We keep all our updates on LinkedIn:
We will be releasing case studies in the coming weeks of different farms using the GyroCups. Unfortunately we are unable to release images of many commercial farms, but we will showcase what we can!
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