“The amazing thing about our technologies and operating model is they enable us to continuously improve the offering to our customers. Let’s say a customer wants to grow a new crop type, in addition to the data already provided to them, we’re set up to conduct advanced and/or parallel trials at our R&D center to deliver as much value as possible,” says Jamie Burrows, Founder and CEO of Vertical Future.
“By combining data that we generate in the R&D center at Vertical Future, we can help enrich the level of data and learnings alongside each customer to support them on their own vertical farming journey. Through these data and scale, we’re already seeing that we’re able to unlock a lot of crops that are not economically feasible for other vertical farms.”
Started in 2016, the company was initially focused on growing alone and supplied over 100 restaurants and other customer types, with the typical crops you’d find in a vertical farm. From 2018, unimpressed and dissatisfied with the technologies available on the market at the time (much of which is still being sold today), the Vertical Future team decided to move into technology development.
Almost three years later, the Vertical Future team have developed an impressive suite of hardware and software technologies that are gradually being deployed on a global scale. Headcount has also increased from less than five staff in 2016 to over 50 today, supported recently by a £21 million Series A funding round.
Hosting a site visit at Vertical Future’s R&D Center in London. (Photo credits: Vertical Future)
DIANA will take care of it
The DIANA SaaS platform was also recently rolled out; an extensive offering that helps growers to cultivate efficiently and at low cost, with continuous optimization. Indeed, Vertical Future system’s high level of automation requires a sophisticated approach to hardware integration, data analysis, and optimization.
DIANA does this by, amongst many other features, providing daily automation scripts for seeding, germination, harvesting, tray allocation, and other environmental controls. When there’s something off inside the farm, clients are alerted to prevent any downtime, and often the required connection is made autonomously.
Vertical Future’s Engineering Management Unit (“EMU”) (Photo credits: Vertical Future)
As Pia Alais, Chief of Staff, explains, “the Deptford R&D center is not a commercially functioning farm that sells products, but it creates data and knowhow. Many trials have been conducted to improve the offering to our customers and this will continue to be the case moving forward.”
Vertical Future believe that the way forward for the industry is in-house development, including manufacturing and full integration. Their system-wide approach is now addressing the shortcomings that they experienced in the past and is intended to significantly disrupt the market. The system is built on the principles of full end-to-end automation, from seed treatment to harvest; energy, water, and waste minimization; food safety; and effective space allocation.
“Growers can come to us as we can provide specific, bespoke solutions, supported by data and growing experience. Now that we’ve started to build larger facilities with customers, proof points are leading to further business,” continues Pia. Jamie adds, “Long-term, we want to ensure that nutritious and affordable food is available for anyone and everyone, thus we must provide a competitive offering, supported by a technological advantages and sound plant science.”
The Vertical Future team are optimistic about the future of the industry but believe that the real value will materialize in the next 3 to 5 years or over a much longer timeframe. “A lot of investment has gone into growers recently and systems that really haven’t evolved, and the trends of the U.S. are following suit here in the U.K. We need to see how these projects perform, and to do this properly will take time” says Jamie. With projects across the U.K., in Singapore, and vast opportunities elsewhere, Vertical Future are poised for rapid growth, but also mindful of macroeconomic threats, and the resulting need for continuous innovation in the industry.