What did you study at UoP? Did you have a pathway in mind?
I studied Electrical and Electronic Engineering, I knew I wanted a predominantly hands-on career – something in R&D – but I’d never considered starting a business. That was until I had to complete an 'Industrial Project'.
How did your Industrial Project lead to a business opportunity?
Ben and I were part of a working group looking into ideas for our master’s year. Ben suggested Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), as it’s a growing field (excuse the pun), and in need of some interdisciplinary work between engineers and growers.
We discovered the university were operating a vertical farm - the Cornish Plant Factory - as part of the European Regional Development funded project Agri-tech. We took the opportunity to visit and chat with the research team. It was immediately apparent they were spending a significant amount of their day setting up, managing and maintaining all the components that create the perfect climate for growing, not to mention taking measurements and collecting data throughout the day. It was clear that while the controlled growing environment had many benefits it was not as easy as simply ‘plugging it in’. So, this is the problem that we set out to fix.
What is different about your controlled growing environment technology?
We are creating an Internet of Things (IoT) 'toolbox of tech' (hardware and software) that makes setting up, managing and monitoring of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) as simple as plug and play.
Our system makes CEA more flexible; allowing users to start a farm at any size and easily adapt and diversify their farm as their business/project grows. This makes it more accessible to the average farmer, SME and home-grower, and is key to moving the industry and food production towards a more sustainable future.
How does this technology aid more sustainable farming practices?
Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), such as indoor and vertical farming, has a plethora of benefits over many of the field-based methods such as using less resources, reduced environmental impacts and seasonless growing. It won’t replace field base agriculture but will compliment and support it.
We are currently working with Cornish Essential Oils to set up a CEA farm that can be used for seasonless growth of some of their crops, like lemon balm and mint. It can also be used to rapidly propagate some of their lavender plants. This will allow them to be transplanted into the fields earlier on in the year, at a stage of growth that can survive the UK’s unpredictable changes in climate.
How did Ginium become its own business entity?
The Industrial Project had a business element to it, requiring us to come up with clear project plans, risk assessments and IP landscapes. We had a budget of £1000 to fund our project, which was ambitious for what we proposed to do. So, we started a company called “Automated Sustainable Systems”, as a means to get paid for doing some odd jobs at the Plant Factory and help top up our budget.
Ben and I started going to events and business workshops, and we were successful in our application for a grant with the University’s business incubator 'The Formation Zone'. The University has been a great support, helping us access grants and bursaries that have provided us funding and office space, enabling us to drive forward the R&D to a stage that we can now offer our products and services to growers.
We hope to install our technologies to help automate much of the Plant Factory’s operations, so that the research team can focus on their research. It will be nice to have come full circle.
As for the name, we realised Automated Sustainable Systems was a bit of a mouthful, and its acronym was a bit unprofessional! So, we changed our name to Ginium: 'Gi' meaning earth, and 'nium' from 'ingenium' meaning cleverness/engineering.
“Our vision is for a world that can feed itself indefinitely, by creating locally productive farms that can be situated anywhere and operated by anyone."
Plant Factory Cornwall
The project aims to facilitate the development and expansion of hydroponic, multi-tier controlled growing environments utilising renewable energy to provide low carbon semi-automated crop production for urban and rural settings.
The project will apply existing and new technology to facilitate the development of a new model of horticultural propagation and growing, to develop new higher quality options for the horticultural sector tailored to the consumer market and with lower carbon supply options.
Find out more about Plant Factory
Factory conditions could alleviate climate threat to plant production
Sphere article: A Cornish plant factory
For more information contact Dr Mick Fuller or Yve Metcalfe-Tyrrell