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LettUs Grow is May's Featured Business of the Month

Fri, 10 May 2019

Charlie Guy won a Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award in March 2018 for his business, LettUs Grow.
The mission of LettUs Grow is to reduce the environmental impact of fresh produce by growing food near the point of consumption. LettUs Grow (founded by Charlie Guy, Ben Crowther and the aptly named Jack Farmer) was initially placed to reduce food waste across the supply chain, but its output has developed into novel aeroponic technology to grow plants more efficiently in completely controlled environments.
 
For business savvy farmers looking for sustainable options, indoor farming and vertical farming provide opportunities to increase profit margins by growing crops in a predictive manner. Vertical farms are productive year-round, and are extremely energy efficient due to a precisely controlled atmosphere. LettUs Grow’s technology has been shown to massively increase the growth rate, and yield, of plants.
 
We caught up with the LettUs Grow team to see what they’ve been up to over the past year, and what the next step is for scaling up.
 
What was the inspiration behind LettUs Grow?
The past decade has been largely defined by the current environmental crisis, so that has always been at the forefront of our minds when building the business. Our technology reduces the resource cost of farming and enables farmers to grow food even in the most unstable climate.
 
How did the team get into entrepreneurship?
Jack Farmer had the genius idea of the name. Jack and Ben were working on the project before Charlie got involved. They collaborated to launch a successful crowdfunding campaign whilst doing their finals for their masters at university, and that’s what really kicked off the project.
 
What challenges did the team face when setting up the business?
There’s a challenge of public perception – making sure the public is aware that this is sustainable technology, and a safe way to grow produce that can provide people with more nutritious and much fresher food.
 
We can contribute to nutritional value by changing lighting, irrigation, the nutrients and the environment. Because you can play with every single lever, you can get more nutritious food than you would typically get from the soil. Because of soil depletion and the amount we are losing to soil erosion from the industrialised farming of the land, the nutritional value of our produce has been declining for years. Field-based crops in highly industrial processes only have basic nutrients in them.1
 
What is your biggest (or proudest) achievement with the business?
Winning a finalist spot in the global Green Challenge was a big day for us. The recognition of the Green Challenge showed that we are developing a viable solution to the many problems that our global agricultural systems will face in the future, from water shortages to the effects of extreme weather. We enable farmers to protect their crops, diversify what they are growing and to massively reduce their ecological footprint.
 
LettUs Grow won a Shell LiveWIRE Award in March 2018. How have things changed since then?
We’ve been on quite a ride this past year. We’ve raised a million pounds in funding, have acquired some incredible business partners and won a few prestigious awards. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be slowing down any time soon either! 
 
What’s next for LettUs Grow?
We’ve already tackled some of the major issues facing indoor farming, such as nozzle clogging, automation, data acquisition and resource use. We are now turning our attention to energy. One of the biggest overheads for vertical farms is the cost of energy. It can contribute up to 40% of the total costs of the business. It’s still quite early days, but watch this space!
 
What role do you think entrepreneurs will play in the transition to a low carbon society?
I think entrepreneurs could play a crucial role in the transition to a low carbon society as they’re unhampered by tradition. There needs to be a big shakeup in the years to come if we’re going to manage to limit climate change to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. However, it depends somewhat on how much they’re fostered to grow. There is no way LettUs Grow would have got off the ground without the help of technology incubators, accelerators and funding. They’ve all been crucial to nurturing and scaling up the business.
 
What’s the most important personality trait to have as an entrepreneur and why?
It sounds a little cheesy, but I’d say passion. Every single person who works at LettUs Grow is passionate about the project and we’re all working towards a common goal: to create a food system that will be more resilient in the face of climate change.
 
If you could return to this time last year would you do anything differently?
I’m not sure there is anything we’d change. We’ve really come to see the value of any mistakes made in the company - they’re fantastic learning material. We actually have a scrapbook where we record any slip-ups we’ve made. A look in the book is part of any new member of staff’s onboarding experience. It not only prevents them from making the same mistakes but also helps to create a really open, and honest, working environment.
 
What advice would you give to aspiring young entrepreneurs?
The most important thing is that any system that’s built is market led – the business case has to be there for it. You need to make a profit for your customer. We’ve had the benefit of coming to this industry and learning from some of the companies that haven’t been successful. We only work on projects that are going to deliver a return to the grower. There are many different market cases for indoor growing – there will be some that fail. But it’s very early days still for the industry.

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