Today, Urban Crop Solutions celebrates its 5th anniversary. On this occasion, a movie was released with testimonials from customers around the globe. Urban Crop Solutions is proud to be a pioneer in the emerging market of indoor vertical farming with a unique business model. The company is a total solution provider and offers container farms and plant factories and all products and services that growers need to grow healthy crops in an indoor farm.
The story of the founding of Urban Crop Solutions starts in 2012 when the founders were experimenting with rooftop farming in urban areas. Only in 2014 the choice was made to focus on indoor vertical farming after some successful tests were done in the warehouse of one of the founders. Since then the company was taken on a rollercoaster and the company evolved from a local AgTech startup to an international scale up with unique commercial products and services.
From its incorporation, the company’s vision was always that the knowledge of the plant growth is key. Today, the company operates 10 labs, 1 demo plant factory and 1 demo container farm for its research operations.
“Over the last 5 years, we have conducted over 800 cultivar trials. Some tests with seeds failed miserably.” explains dr. Oscar Navarrete, chief plant scientist and the first employee of Urban Crop Solutions. “But through our continuous work to tweak seed selection, LED spectrum, irrigation, substrate and nutrition, we have developed more than 200 plant growth recipes that are available for our clients.”
The design of the plant growth infrastructure that Urban Crops Solutions is building for its clients is the result of the know-how the plant scientists transfer to the mechanical engineers to achieve optimal plant growth in an indoor vertical farm environment. In February 2016, the Flemish Minister President Geert Bourgeois opened Urban Crop Solutions’ automated indoor farm which was the largest in Europe. This installation was built and is operated by Urban Crop Solutions for research purposes.
“We’ve been at the forefront of this emerging industry since the beginning. Some of our engineering concepts lacked robustness, but by listening to the feedback of our customers we’ve upgraded numerous components to improve the reliability, the operational efficiency and food safety”, says Maarten Vandecruys, founder and CTO of Urban Crops Solutions. “We now have 24 containers in operation with our customers, of which about half in Europe and half in the USA. We are proud to have collaborations with large corporates and with several scientific institutions”.
Urban Crop Solutions caught in the past 5 years many attention by media, by trendwatchers, by large corporates, by politicians and by royals. In November 2018, the company could present its technology to the French president Emmanuel Macron and the Belgian King Filip. In September 2019, the company realized a series A capital round, marking the start of the international commercialization of its products and services portfolio.
“It is clear that indoor vertical farming is still an early stage industry. With the current high initial cost involved, it requires finding the right market niche for the right crop in order to achieve an attractive ROI.” Explains CEO and co-investor Tom Debusschere. “However, the world is changing very fast and besides the obvious food industry we see a lot potential for our products and services in some high value end-markets like food supplements, fragrances, cosmetics, aromatics and phyto-pharmaceuticals.”
The technology and the products of Urban Crop Solutions are best explained as at “the crossroads between plant biology and factory engineering”. In the coming years the company will continue to invest in products and services for ‘killer applications’ (revolutionizing market segments) and ‘moonshot crops’ (developing indoor plant growth recipes with large impact) in order to realize its mission: ‘Urban Crop Solutions contributes to the solutions for the challenges caused by global urbanization, the growing world population and the lack of agricultural land in the world’.