This interview details urban-gro, an indoor farming company based in the United States. The interview is with Bradley Nattrass, CEO of urban-gro.
What is the origin story of urban-gro?
It all started with a focus on retrofitting infrastructure with energy-efficient LED lighting, which quickly became our main area of expertise. When legalized cannabis hit urban-gro’s backyard in Colorado, we discovered our niche and the opportunities in the budding industry. We quickly realized the incredible opportunity we were facing: the chance to apply our lighting technology and expertise to a nascent industry. Starting off as a lighting reseller and equipment provider, urban-gro spent years scaling the business to where it is today as the first and only fully integrated, design-build firm specializing in Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) for cannabis and produce, industrial, healthcare, and other commercial sectors.
We initially began working with individual growers, helping them optimize their lighting and cultivation practices. As we continued to grow, we realized there was a need for more integrated solutions that could provide everything from design to engineering to ongoing support. That's when we decided to actively pursue acquisitions with like minded firms to support our vision. Recently, we brought all of our services under one roof and became a full-service provider. Today, urban-gro has completed hundreds of projects in the CEA space, helping some of the largest indoor growing operators with their goals of producing leafy greens and other produce. Applying the expertise we’ve earned from these cannabis CEA projects, we’ve been able to solidify our place in the produce CEA industry.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing urban-gro in the future?
The industry as a whole has faced some challenges in recent times. The pandemic has had an effect on the global economy, and the cannabis industry is not immune. We are, however, proud of our ability to adapt to these challenges. Our focus on operational efficiencies and positive adjusted EBITDA has been a top priority for us. We believe that these measures will help us weather any future industry challenges. Some of the biggest opportunities we currently see include service verticalization across market sectors, staying on the leading-edge of changing technology, streamlining internal processes, and strengthening relationships with customers and partners. While the challenges faced by the cannabis industry have been significant, we have demonstrated our ability to adapt and succeed.
In regards to vertical farming and the CEA sector, there are many promising opportunities for firms with the uniquely relevant expertise required to be successful. First and foremost, constructing and operating vertical farms requires a well-thought-out business plan, a strong management team, and a shift towards practicality and profitability. Over the last few years, vertical farming start-ups previously won over venture capitalists with promising technology; however, their business models were not fruitful as many were too focused on the innovation rather than sound business models and profitability. In short, government support, transparent business models, and market understanding are crucial to succeeding in the sector. Despite these challenges, urban-gro works with customers who have identified business models that will present impactful opportunities for small-scale systems, high-yield farms, nurseries, and large-scale municipal farms.
What is unique about urban-gro compared to competitors?
urban-gro stands out from its competitors because of its truly integrated Design-build delivery capability. Unlike other firms, we offer full turnkey services, so our partners can trust us for the highest level of service and industry expertise.
We have worked with a number of vertical farming operators in North America and Europe, and we are always pushing the limits of what is possible in this space. But what really sets us apart is our commitment to innovation. We're always looking for new solutions that can help our clients achieve their goals, whether that's through new lighting technology, advanced automation systems, purpose-driven design and construction, or something else entirely. It's this focus on innovation that has made us a leading provider of solutions not just for the cannabis industry, but for the wider agriculture market as well.
How do you measure the impact of urban-gro so far? (Revenue, Employees, Customer Quantity, Production Volume) etc.)?
Ultimately, the impact of our firm is demonstrated in the strength of our relationships and through repeat business. Our people and partnerships are our most valuable business asset and client experience is paramount. Leveraging our integrated, Design-Build delivery method, we aim to simplify the design and construction process for our clients, giving them a single point of contact throughout the lifecycle of their project. The opportunity to be the “go-to” for so many clients, working with them on a repeat basis, is the benchmark for success that we aspire to.
What have you learned that you wish you knew when you joined or started the company?
urban-gro has evolved rapidly alongside the CEA industry since being founded in 2014. The ability to remain nimble and adapt to client needs and market conditions has been instrumental in the success of our firm. Through acquisition and organic growth, the strength of our team’s speciality in the CEA space is unparalleled. When we were founded with a handful of people working around an old dining room table, it was difficult to imagine being where we are now with acquisitions and offices around the world. We’ve learned the importance of trusting and empowering our team members to strengthen and grow our business. Success is a team sport in which we achieve far more together than could be accomplished alone.
How can people connect with you or learn more about urban-gro?
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