Hong Kong startup Growgreen is using smart technology to encourage urban flat owners to grow popular herbs and leafy vegetables in the comfort of their homes.
The company, established in 2016, has developed a range of hydroponic planting systems. Its aspara range of smart growers are based on the concept of an indoor greenhouse but incorporate smart technology to improve the planting environment with adjustable lighting, luminosity, temperature and humidity. The devices come with a smartphone app reminding users when to water, fertilise and harvest plants.
“No genetic modification is involved. We are merely using technology to create better growing conditions than outdoor ones,” said Growgreen CEO Dr. Humphrey Leung, an electronics expert with background in the semiconductor industry and integrated circuit development.
Leung combined his IT talent with agriculture and biotechnology to form Growgreen, venturing into his second career at age 60. The Growgreen team now numbers around 20 people, comprising of professionals from the agriculture, electronics and food science sectors.
Sustainable and healthy foods
Leung has always kept his eye out for opportunities to apply his expertise to sustainable lifestyles and healthy foods.
“The cost of growing your own vegetables may be about the same as buying premium vegetables imported from overseas, but the difference is that aspara users can see how their vegetables grow pesticide-free at home,” said Leung.
Apart from smart growers, the aspara range offers seed kits of different plants such different varieties of lettuce, pak choi and herb. They have seed kits to grow cherry tomatoes, sweet basil, blue curled kale and chilli mix to name a few.
Users can use the app to scan the QR code on the packaging of the seed kit for the species they want to grow, and the device will automatically adjust the lighting, photoperiod, watering cycle and nutrient level to give the plant the best growing environment.
These non-genetically modified seeds come in biodegradable capsules, similar to those used in coffee machines, and are to be put in the smart grower. Once the plants are harvested, users can grow a new batch by placing new seed capsules in the machine.
“Once you eliminate pollution, pesticides, pests and additives, it normally takes plants around 28 days to reach maturity. That’s a 50% increase in planting efficiency.”
Growgreen’s smart growers are a hit especially with local schools, allowing teachers to bring science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes to life.
Leung wants to extend its reach to elderly care homes, believing the smart-plant growers can make care homes livelier, while creating a stronger bond between the residents and their families.
Indeed, the smart growers can be used for large-scale indoor farming on premisses such as hotels, clubhouses, restaurants and research institutes. The aspara app can also control multiple machines simultaneously.
Tapping the overseas market
To date with its e-commerce business model, Growgreen has been able to penetrate the overseas markets such as Canada, the US and a number of European countries.
The company has joint trade fairs locally and abroad to create market buzz for its smart growers.
In addition, Growgreen was a winner and named “My Favourite Start-Up” in the pitching contest held as part of this year’s Start-up Express entrepreneur development programme organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC).
“With travel restrictions amid the pandemic, it’s hard to attend overseas shows and find business partners. Fortunately, the HKTDC is helping us promote our brand through its global network,” said Leung.
Building on its success, the company is set to enter the Mainland China later this year.
“We are now in talks with a high-end homeware home furnishing company on the mainland for B2B sales. That company has over 1,000 retail points,” Leung said. “We also wish to team up with international kitchenware brands and bring hydroponics into modern homes for a more sustainable and healthier lifestyle.”