The food industry has experienced a paradigm shift as the focus has been shifted from mass-produced, processed food to fresh, farm to table food. The changing tastes and new understanding of the food, as well as increasing emphasis on how food is grown and where it comes from, has significantly propelled this shift. The increasing demand for fresh food has been the driving force for companies such as Babylon Micro-Farms.
The Charlottesville, VA-based company was established in 2017 by Alexander Olesen (CEO and Co-Founder of Babylon Micro-Farms) – with a vision to cater to market demand by allowing its customers to grow healthy, nutrient-dense food on-site and reducing food miles to feet. Alexander is a well-known leader in the industry and has leveraged his experience and prowess to grow Babylon Micro-Farms into a leading company in the region.
Roots of Entrepreneurship
The experiences and ideas during childhood play a vital role in shaping the overall development of a person. Similarly, experiences during Alexander’s childhood led him to be the founder of Babylon Micro-Farms. He grew up on a farm in the UK before moving to London in his teens. There, he noticed and became deeply concerned with the disconnect between how the food was grown and the plastic-wrapped standard that enveloped urban food systems. He considers himself fortunate to have studied in the US, where he witnessed the extreme pollution and unhealthy dietary habits –which had a huge impact on his perspective. He studied Foreign Affairs and Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Virginia. During his studies, he researched and studies various aspects of building a sustainable food system. He also traveled across the world gaining first-hand experience and a broad worldview around the global food system. Leveraging this experience, he decided to start on his own and established Babylon Micro-Farms with Graham Smith in 2017.
Commitment to Building Sustainable Micro-Farms
Under Alexander’s auspices, the Babylon team pursued the research and development of its cloud-based remote management technology to develop a complete indoor farming platform that will power a distributed network of micro-farms across North America.
The platform provides the freshest food available to the clients by making it easy to grow it on-site, year-round. The clients can choose from Babylon’s wide selection of crops including numerous varieties of Heirloom Lettuces, Herbs & Aromatics, Baby Greens, Edible Flowers, and Specialty items. Moreover, Babylon has its own app which is compatible with any smartphone and controls all the variables, making it easy for people to enjoy the benefits of having a farm without any of the hindrances. As the co-founder and CEO of Babylon Micro-Farms, Alexander does his best to fulfill and grow the vision of the company as it embraces new opportunities. The company has created a new market for vertical farming, making it affordable and accessible for the commercial food service industry, specializing in the education, healthcare and senior living sectors. Thus, Alexander dedicates his majority of time in managing the team and bringing on partners and investors. In the early days of Babylon, Alexander handled all the sales operations on his own and was responsible for the entire sales process. However, today, the company has a great sales and marketing team which is committed to the company’s growth.
Enhancing the Ability
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been catastrophic for a majority of industries across the globe. The restrictions due to the pandemic have halted the business operations in numerous industries. The Food and Beverage industry has been affected severely due to the pandemic in every aspect. From supply chain breakdowns to the inability to have food service establishments open their door, the industry still faces numerous challenges.
“Our challenge is to continue to serve our customers while observing stringent safety standards,” says Alexander. He further adds that Babylon has improved its vertical farming platform’s ability to be managed remotely, reducing the necessity for in-person contact. In the wake of the pandemic, the company has also developed an entire catalog of support materials such as videos and manuals that can be accessed online.
Surviving through the Crisis
Businesses had to think outside the box and implement new strategies to combat the unprecedented challenges caused by the pandemic. Likewise, Babylon focused on its research and development activities. The company also emphasized building a strong team to provide uninterrupted services and has grown it’s sales pipeline through implementing effective new strategies.
Alexander believes that having a nimble business model allows companies to pivot to adapt to the changes in the market. He further asserts that having the right people in place makes all the difference and a good hiring process is also a key to success. “No matter how well you plan, there are things you cannot plan for and you must simply survive if you can,” he added.
A New Generation of Restaurants and Eateries
The pandemic impacted several aspects of people’s lives. According to Alexander, one of the major things people missed during the pandemic was having food together. He believes that when it is safe to do so, people will return in large numbers to foodservice outlets. “Sadly, many will not recover so we will see a new generation of restaurants and eateries,” he said. He adds that the change in ease of having food delivered now will make in-home dining a continued trend, which bodes well for the financial health of the industry.
In his short career as an entrepreneur, Alexander has been instrumental in helping Babylon achieve new heights. However, it is essential for an entrepreneur to maintain a work-life balance as well. Alexander loves to spend his spare time reading books and watching movies. He recommends Play Bigger by Christopher Lochhead & Al Ramadan et al and A Life on Our Planet as his favorite book and movie respectively.
Read Full issue: The 10 Prominent Food and Beverage Leaders to Look for in 2021