Think of a farm, and you might picture vast fields of crops swaying to the breeze under the countryside sun. But that’s not the case for the newest team to join the AtomLeap High-Tech Accelerator — when the Klimazone crew pictures a farm, they see buildings. They see rows of crops stacked to the roof in warehouses and skyscrapers with optimized climates designed for different species, be it fruits, vegetables, or greens.
You may very well have heard of vertical farming already — the idea of making farms that stretch upwards, and not just sideways — and if you have, you’ll know that it’s quite the challenge to produce the right kind of climate and light conditions for different plants to grow.
This is the problem that Klimazone is solving. Klimazone is building a ‘climate library’ and a host of software tools for tomorrow’s vertical farmers, so they can set up the optimal environments for their crops and monitor growth without first needing the specialized technical knowhow.
To get some more details on their idea and the team, we sat down with Suvrajit, Angel, and David, three of the minds behind Klimazone, to chat more about themselves and the vision they want to realize.
In your own words, what does Klimazone do?
We’re opening up vertical farming to a much broader audience by providing tools for the farmers of tomorrow to grow in a more sustainable and future-proof way. We want our tools to reduce the learning curve for farmers to produce a broader range of food in a centralized setting, because with our data solutions you wouldn’t need that highly specialized knowledge to get started. That way, risks are reduced for the farmers, and the lower entry barriers makes vertical farming a more feasible approach to tackle food security and make a social impact.
What problem are you addressing and why is it important to address it?
The entry barriers to vertical farming are very high: high investments, necessary expertise, and specialized knowledge prevent this sector from being accessible. We are working on lowering these high entry barriers by making critical parts of the value chain not just affordable, but also attractive. This is necessary to help vertical farming realize its potential and make a meaningful social impact.
How did you come across this idea?
This idea is the result of deep analyses and multiple iterations over the past few years. The initial plan of setting up and operating vertical farms was ditched once it became clear how prohibitive the costs and effort would be. This led to challenging the functioning model of vertical farming today, one that is expensive and inefficient.
Our approach is not to make a poorly-designed system with grave structural flaws merely better. Instead of being blinded by the pursuit of efficiency, we are innovation focused. We are using technological developments as building blocks to design our offerings. Our solutions — to be offered as services — are based on exploiting data using machine learning and deep learning and pairing this with behavioral sciences and psychology.
From action to market: any thoughts you may have on the market for your product, barriers to entry, the level of financial support available, changes in legislation that may open up a new market, or the level of competition?
The vertical farming market is currently pretty small (<$4bn) but growing. It is slated to reach a value of $13 billion by 2024. Moreover, it has seen active investor activities with SoftBank, Jeff Bezos, and GV among others making big early stage investments amounting to over $400 million in 2017-2018.
There are newer startups working on new products and tech for vertical farming and even governments — such as those of Iceland, Singapore, and Japan — are actively supporting it.
We consider these as positive omens heralding bountiful times. In Europe, financial support is pretty paltry (as often) and there is also a lack of understanding in most investor circles. This naturally makes the job tougher.
As for our product, we believe it is up to us to communicate its uniqueness and benefits to our customers. That is the secret to acceptance.
So, who are the minds behind Klimazone?
David: I’m the funding analyst, and potentially the sprint organizer as well going ahead. I was formally trained in industrial design, but after I completed my Master’s degree, my interests took me into the manufacturing sector instead. Since then, I’ve moved around between personal projects which focused mostly on knowledge transfer and teaching people how to use digital products and access new tech. More recently, I spent two years in an Italian accelerator, where I was supporting startups in developing prototypes. I’ve been in Berlin for six months now, and I’m currently pursuing a growing interest in UX and service design.
Angel: I’m a co-founder of Klimazone, and I’m in charge of the data science and share responsibility over operational activities. I worked in a US company specializing in energy design after graduating in mechanical engineering, but realized in the process that I was lusting after travel, which led me to a Master’s in Italy focusing on space sciences. Following the Italian chapter, I moved to Berlin and worked as a machine learning engineer in the energy sector, and participated in an EU entrepreneur program where you work with a co-founder to learn about running a business and how to make great products. What really drew me to the co-founding Klimazone, though, is the entrepreneurial kick I got from my family in Mexico, who run a business back home, and my passion to use tech to solve social problems.
Suvrajit: I’m the founder of Klimazone and I’m responsible for product, project management, and together with Angel, we manage the operations elements of the company. I’m trained in engineering, with both a Bachelor’s and Master’s in the discipline, but I’ve always worked in a cross functional role. In fact, I wrote my MBA thesis last year on cross-industry innovation, and how innovative practice often comes as an amalgamation of different disciplines, and finding the right application for that mix. Professionally, I’ve mostly worked in research institutes or large corporates, where I was responsible not just for the technical aspects but also for the realization of projects.
If I had to sum up our team, I’d say we are a good mix of experience and youthful daring. We are determined and resilient, and we have experienced industry minds, but we can also think ahead with unbounded fantasy.
What are your goals for the AtomLeap High-Tech Accelerator program?
Besides working on our product, we want to make use of AtomLeap’s network for our fundraising efforts. In addition, we see the potential to hone our knowledge in certain business-related areas through AtomLeap’s workshops.