30 Mar 2018 Story Ecosystems

Young Champ Adam Dixon tells his story!

Adam Dixon, Young Champion of the Earth for Europe, shares his experiences in building a sustainable agribusiness.

Hello and welcome to my blog! I am Adam Dixon from Phytoponics and the UN Young Champion of the Earth for Europe. I’m writing this in January and in this post, I will discuss some of my background in developing the project so far, I’ll tell you what has happened since the award of the prize in Kenya, what our aims are for the next few months, and the challenges we are tackling now.

First of all, I have been working on this project for just over a year now. When I started, all I had was a vision, a concept and motivation. I didn’t have much experience in running a project or developing a company, just a couple of years in agribusiness under my belt. Since then, I have learned many lessons through hard work and mistakes. Launching a start-up is a tough and demanding job.

I was first inspired when I saw the challenges facing us as a planet and species. I focused on food and the environment and saw how we are highly inefficient in turning resources into food, needing huge swathes of land and rivers to grow crops and livestock. I thought that increasing the efficiency of resource usage for food could have a positive benefit in reducing the impact that agriculture has and prevent deforestation and pollution.

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Hydroponics (growing plants in mineral water) is the technology I selected to tackle this issue. Although the technology has been around for more than 60 years, it still has not reached its full potential, as only 10% of greenhouse growers use it. Traditional Hydroponics uses less than 10% of the land, and vertical farming is even more efficient. Imagine if Europe switched en-masse to Hydroponics, it could be possible to give 20% of Europe back to nature and 3% to ecologically friendly housing. Starting the project, I looked at the commercial horticulture sector and listened to grower’s opinion about the technology. How could a technology that can produce thousands of tonnes of tomatoes per hectare in a year not be used everywhere?

It mostly came down to the cost of installing and operating hydroponic systems, as high cost is a barrier of entry to many growers and a risk to others. But I also learned that done well hydroponic farms are highly successful and lead the industry. So, I challenged myself, how could I make a good commercial hydroponic system at lower total cost of ownership? Then I had an idea for a flexible system that could do this and Phytoponics was born.

In the past two months a lot has happened. I knew that a strong team was needed to tackle this challenging project, so I worked with my advisors to select two new highly talented team members to drive product development. One is an experienced hydroponic grower and systems developer who has done similar work before successfully. The other is an energetic product development engineer from a medical devices background. Working with the team, these new members have boosted the project hugely in just a few weeks. This meant securing exit agreements with previous team members.

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Huge tonnages are possible with hydroponics inside a greenhouse

We also recognised the need for a finance and program management team member to deliver organized progress and drive the project, and are currently looking for talent for a program manager or COO role. Our strategy now is to develop the product with new team members, run a growth trial starting in April and then commercial trials in July with co-operating growers. During this time, I will be planning with my team and advisors the future of Phytoponics and how we will deliver impact through commercial success of our technology before opening our seed round to execute.

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Early prototypes in June 2017

The main challenges I am facing now are also opportunities:

  • I am looking for an exceptional program manager or COO, see here: link
  • I am looking for growers or commercial partners to trial our system for Tomatoes from July onwards
  • We are also looking for investors to join our seed round later this year, you can connect with me on LinkedIn to stay in the loop and receive updates

You can follow our Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for more updates.

 

To be continued...

The Young Champions blogs and vlogs are collated with the support of CoalitionWILD