Geert Hendrix and Serena Lee on scaling an ag-tech start-up, closed-loop urban food solutions… and that time they met the Royals.
By Natalie O’Brien
Natalie: Tell us about the Farmwall concept and how it works?
Geert: Farmwall is an AgTech start-up that designs and implements natural, food-producing solutions in urban spaces. Since the conception of Farmwall in October 2016, we have been rapidly scaling with big plans for the future.
Our company’s flagship design is the Farmwall, an aquaponically-inspired system that can grow fresh produce indoors in a small-scale vertical farm.
Farmwalls grow produce at the place of consumption, meaning there’s no food miles or food waste.
Natalie: How did you grow this seed of an idea and how are you scaling it? Any secrets to share?
Geert: Farmwall started as an urban farming concept, I was sick and tired of the injustice towards our planet and the hostility of the daily grind. I set out to create something that had purpose, and which could stand on its own two feet.
Putting our business through accelerator programs helped. First was Two Feet by The Difference Incubator, which helped us formulate the company vision and intent while teaching us how to ‘Do good and make money’. Next was Rocket Seeder, honing into capturing the market and getting our pitch perfect.
We have also been lucky enough to have an incredible community who constantly blow us away with mentorship and support. Nest Coworking, Melbourne Innovation Centre, our amazing crowdfund pledgers and our incredible advisors, just to name a few.
Natalie: You recently met Meghan and Harry with the Governor – what was it like?
Serena: Meeting Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was a great experience—we were so lucky to be one of the few businesses chosen to present our innovation during the royal visit, especially because it was at Government House in the presence of Linda Dessau The Hon. Governor of Victoria and husband Mr Anthony Howard.
Harry and Meghan were very interested in the Farmwall, making comments about Farmwall’s capabilities for food production in developing countries and the nutritional profile of microgreens.
While it was a short interaction, the acknowledgement of our young startup by the State Government and Royal Family left us feeling incredibly proud of how hard our team has worked to achieve this level of recognition. Maybe if we can persuade Queen Elizabeth that microgreens are good for corgis, we can get a few Farmwalls in Buckingham Palace!
Natalie: I know Farmwall works alongside regional farmers. How does your work alleviate some of the environmental and social pressures Australia is facing?
Geert: Prince Harry’s comment was “I hope that these can be produced with farmers in mind too, so they can exist side by side.” This is something we believe in as well and feel very strongly about.
By growing more fresh produce in urban areas and embracing the mindset of a closed-loop ecosystem, we can inspire entire cities through the spectacle of watching produce grow; a sight most city slingers are unfamiliar with.
Through raising awareness of the inputs that go into producing food on our plates—we can create a level of appreciation for the regional farmers and the significance of regional agriculture industry in Australia.
The case for urban agriculture is not one of replacing local farming, rather—relieving some of the food production capacity while making our cities more resilient.
It’s not practical to look at urban farming as a replacement of our current system, but instead as a method by which we can alleviate some of the environmental and social pressures our country is facing while reaping the economic benefits of green cities as well.
Natalie: What’s next for Farmwall?
Serena: Getting more Farmwalls into cafes, restaurants and workplaces. Schools and universities are definitely on our radar, as well as a smaller home model for the residential market.
We are also looking to build capacity through an urban farm collaboration with an Australian real-estate group—making use of under-utilised space in large scale developments and collectively imagining the ‘green’ potential for our future cities.
Photography credit: Farmwall