The urban farmer: interview with João Igor of CoolFarm

The urban farmer: interview with João Igor of CoolFarm

Created out of necessity, CoolFarm now offers smart farming solutions that allow you to plug, play, and produce fresh food all year round. Get the inside scoop on how co-founder João Igor has discovered a novel way to make agriculture an integral part of urban life.

If you haven’t heard about urban farming, you must have been living under a rock for the past few years! City-based agriculture offers the opportunity to have healthy food in abundance, at a fraction of the cost, by growing only what we need, close to home.

Urban ag startups have boomed in the last few years, offering everything from unorthodox growing setups to soil sensors, hydroponics and all manner of crop data analytics. We’ve recently spoke to João Igor of CoolFarm, a Portuguese startup operating in the smarter food and in the greenhouse sustainable agriculture area. Here’s their take on the potential for urban farming.

“I found myself suffering from health problems due to the fast food that we consume inside cities, I’ve also seen my friends and family suffering from the same issues. I wanted to do something to fight this, and I ended up in finding the right team of co-founders for this project.”

Together, we started building the CoolFarm technology in order to make farming easier and to bring fresh and nutritious food to cities, close to the people.

New sustainable model

CoolFarm offers indoor farming solutions for production of high quality food. Their solutions provide maximum efficiency and profitability. Their control system, called CoolFarm in/control is plant-centred. Using an intuitive dashboard, growers are able to monitor and contnrol all their farms at once, anywhere, anytime. Artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms ensure optimized crop production, as well as efficient management of resources.

“We also offer to the market the CoolFarm Eye, an innovative cloud based optical sensor made to capture plants’ area and plant greenness, monitoring crops through time,” explains João. “Using the Eye, growers can make wiser and straight forward decisions to achieve the best results.”

2017 marks the launch of CoolFarm in/store, a closed and vertical system with a clean and climatized environment inside, perfect to grow premium seedlings, microgreens, leafy greens, herbs and flowers. Reportedly, it uses 90% less water than common agriculture and it does not need pesticides or herbicides. It is modular, with each module covering nearly 100 square meters of the production area.

Intelligent and highly intuitive, the system is aimed at growers, food distributors, grocery and supermarket chains, research centers, medical centers, and communities.

The system is equipped with two columns of movable hydroponic growing beds, one vertical lift, a fertigation system, topnotch sensors to measure all the variables concerning the plants, LED grow lights, CoolFarm in/control system and an antechamber.

Cities turning green

Throughout the world, urban farming is becoming an integral part of the urban landscape. CoolFarm is part of the booming trend. However, in order to emerge into a viable industry solution, CoolFarm needs agents and distributors worldwide, as well as adequate support from governments.

“Stakeholders must jointly address food and sustainability issues, and promote novel technologies and solutions for better farming,” says João. Although there is an urgent need for producing health, tasty, environmentally sustainable food, redesigning the agricultural system would not be straightforward.

As a creative person and as a designer my job is to build new and intuitive solutions, as well as to communicate them in the best way; as a tech guy I need to bring top notch technology, like robotics, for fields in need.

Sprouting imaginative solutions

The European startup ecosystem has bred numerous success stories, and CoolFarm is one of them. “We’ve gained a lot of attention, especially from the media, which is essential for any startup business trying to create brand awareness.” They also learned a lot about marketing, business, and securing funding and capital.

However, the biggest lesson, by far, is avoiding money from people that don’t understand complex markets such as agriculture.

“In general, European incubators and accelerators are good. We have excellent people behind the scene, and Europe doesn’t lack experience or knowledge.”

Apparently, launching a startup in Europe was the right decision: the team now counts nearly 20 people creating indoor farming solutions, from horticulturists and biologists, software and hardware engineers, web, mobile and product designers, marketing and business experts.

If you want a sustainable business in agriculture, avoid money from people who don’t understand such a complex market.

Early product is strong, but their roadmap is much more exciting. “We want to install the in/store solution at universities, hospitals, supermarkets, cruises, buildings,” says João, adding that they want to grasp a significant portion of the market with their new product. “The next 18 months are going to be game changing for CoolFarm. Watch and see!”

[This article is a part of our daily series ‘Future trends’]

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