AUTHOR CREDIT – Alexander Olesen, Co-Founder and CEO, Babylon Micro-Farms.
I became actively involved in the Social Entrepreneur Program after moving to the US from London to attend the University of Virginia. It was there that I met fellow student Graham Smith, now Babylon’s co-founder, and that chance meeting turned out to be the moment that launched us on a path to developing a platform that could power a distributed network of hydroponic farms. The first prototype we built was designed to alleviate hunger in refugee camps in the Middle East. Our early vision of starting an environmentally responsible company to provide fresh food to refugees living in camps was tested when logistical realities of adequate power supply and access to clean water forced us to reassess our strategy and focus on the food supply chain here in the US.
At Babylon we are solving a very different set of problems than most companies in the vertical farming industry. Most companies building modular solutions are focused on creating hardware configurations of hydroponic systems to optimize for specific crop varieties etc. There’s nothing wrong with that and it’s exciting to see all the innovation. However, our firm belief is that there is not a one size fits all solution to this market and that every modular vertical farming solution shares the same scalability challenges when it comes to automation, customer support, growing supplies, and data analysis. We saw a clear opportunity to build a new, technology-based solution that would reduce the cost, complexity, and infrastructure requirements to grow fresh food in smaller scale vertical farms and in doing so increase accessibility to this sustainable means of crop cultivation. This technology is the backbone of Babylon today and ties back into the original issues we saw in refugee camps – lack of access to healthy, fresh, sustainably grown food.
These are the challenges we are trying to address through our remote management platform. The platform enables us to control semi-automated hydroponic systems through the cloud and aggregate the data from all the farms in our fleet. We combine this with automating an inventory fulfilment system that enables us to prepare and ship consumables to our customers while they interact with their farm through our Guided Growing App. The software infrastructure we are developing creates a superior user experience for the end consumer and provides data analysis that is critical to scaling support for a distributed network of vertical farms. In this way, we seek to be an
enabling platform that can help grow the market for modular vertical farming solutions as an accessible alternative to large scale, capital intensive, commercial farming operations.
We’re building for a future where modular vertical farming solutions are an accessible means of food production in urban areas. By modular vertical farming solution, we are referring to turnkey indoor growing systems ranging in size from a household appliance up to a shipping container. We are taking a differentiated approach and do not compete with the large industrial growers. As one of the early entrants to this segment of the market we have a unique vantage point regarding the pain points of deploying and supporting a distributed network of Micro-Farms. These are pain points shared by every single company that wants to operate a distributed network of vertical farming systems. This is a rapidly growing market with some standout companies like InFarm and Freight Farms. They have compelling hardware products specialized for different markets, however, they lack the transferable software capabilities we have developed. New entrants to the market will create hardware configurations suited to different sectors and/or crop varieties – these are all prospective customers for our software that can utilize our knowledge and expertise to get to market faster and leverage the data we are collecting to improve their operations.
We envision a world where controlled environment crop cultivation becomes the predominant source of major highly-perishable produce categories, such as, leafy greens, herbs, berries etc.. As the market grows we need modular vertical farming solutions that are accessible and can scale more easily than the large scale, capital intensive, commercial operations that dominate the headlines today. These solutions
are not mutually exclusive and we need both in order to reform our food system. New technologies and new business models are making modular vertical farms viable. Babylon is aiming to be the platform that drives this segment forward.
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