Startups and Sustainability: Interview with Hexagro
The World Commission on Environment and Development states, “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The issue is the focus of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the EU draft due diligence directive on sustainable corporate governance and was the subject of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) held in November in Glasgow.
In this context, public authorities, private bodies, and all members of society are called upon to cooperate in a strategic and focused manner on addressing the social and climate emergency.
In light of the above, we have decided to focus our attention on the private startup sector, which has long been committed to such issues. This initiative will highlight such companies and allow participants to get to know them better. It is an inclusive effort designed to foster a lively and productive exchange.
The first interview is with the startup Hexagro, a project created in 2013 based on a concept by Felipe Hernandez, co-founder and CEO. The startup officially launched in 2016, after establishing itself in Milan.
Hexagro is committed to the technological development of vertical farming to make it easier for even “non-experts” to grow fresh produce in any space.
Hexagro’s key products include the Living Farming Tree, a vertical farming system that utilizes fully automated biophilic design. The company’s most recent product is Poty, a modular vertical garden with a fertigation system that feeds plants with micro-nutrient droplets to provide the necessary elements for efficient and healthy growth. Additionally, through the Siembra Vertical Social project, Hexagro supports local communities in the places where the consequences of global warming, land degradation, and urbanization are affecting farmers the most, such as Colombia.
Below, co-founders Felipe Hernandez and Alessandro Grampa answer our questions about their world.
You have combined technology with nature. Where do those intersect?
Technology and nature meet in our vertical farming solutions designed to bring wellness back to the city via nature. City dwellers are increasingly surrounded by unfriendly environments and alienated from the kind of green space needed for wellbeing. We decided to employ technology to bring nature back into urban settings in a fresh, modern, and unexpected way. Thanks to our vertical farming technology it is possible to grow fresh fruits and vegetables in any location, even in those previously considered inhospitable. That shortens the food supply chain and gives people the opportunity to enjoy a unique and enriching urban farming experience.
Is your project based on disruptive technology or an incremental improvement to existing technology?
Our processes are based on exponential technologies, meaning technologies that double in power or processing speed every year while their costs are cut in half, such as artificial intelligence (AI), 3D printing, and the Internet of things (IoT).
Do you think there is a market need for Hexagro? How is your idea innovative?
Our idea, especially in the form of the Living Farming Tree, is unique and innovative compared to other green wellness solutions on the market because it combines nature and technology in a unique and engaging way. Not only is nature brought into urban spaces through technology, but it takes on a new form and modern character through the interactivity of the Living Farming Tree. Users can interact with the Living Farming Tree thanks to an easy and intuitive interface, where they monitor the growth status of the plants, learn facts and information about the plants and the technologies used to grow them, and monitor the health of the surrounding environment. Interacting with the Living Farming Tree and its plants is a simple yet powerful tool for increasing happiness, productivity, and wellbeing. Not only does interaction with plants reduce stress, but it also improves air quality, brightens spaces, and creates pleasant, engaging, and healthy places to study, work, and play. It harnesses the power of biophilic design and brings it to life. The Living Farming Tree combines nature, biophilic design, and technology in new and unexpected ways to bring wellness and nature to places where it is currently lacking.
In your opinion, how can the current reality of traditional Italian and European agriculture be converted to more innovative solutions?
Agriculture in Italy has a long history strongly linked to local traditions and practices. It is slowly opening up to technologies and solutions to become more effective, efficient, and sustainable, and traditional agriculture is transforming into innovative agriculture. It is essential to bring this sector in line with today’s challenges related to urbanization, sustainability, and climate change, through training and allocation of funds to modernize perception and agricultural techniques themselves. Adopting more modern approaches, such as vertical or urban farming, is part of that process. Urban farming is a solution in many respects, such as the environmental side (moving closer to cities results in a reduction of carbon dioxide as food’s journey from the countryside into urban areas is shortened) and the social side (it creates new employment and economic opportunities, because even families with modest budgets can access food in cities).
What’s next for you?
Hexagro aims to become a global leader in the world of vertical farming. We envision a decentralized network where people can grow their favorite foods or simply access the healthiest options for themselves. We want to bring nature and food into all spaces, making our cities more sustainable and resilient and allowing anyone, anywhere to access healthy food.