How Microsoft’s Redmond campus inspired this Zambia agritech startup

A small idea born in the Microsoft Redmond campus in Seattle, Washington, has grown to become a full-blown digital farm marketplace in Zambia.

Between September 2017 and August 2021, Chris Chileshe, a Zambian-American, worked as a software engineer at Microsoft on its Redmond campus, where he got exposed to sophisticated urban farming. The Microsoft campus has approximately 50,000 employees, with over 100 buildings. Each building has its own café and aeroponic and hydroponic gardens growing fresh vegetables used in the campus’s kitchen and salad bars.

Chileshe, as an employee, had the privilege of touring these gardens and investigating the technology involved in hydroponic farming. Automated cultivation machines called urban cultivators are used on the farm. The watering, light cycles, and ventilation system are all automated and can be controlled via a screen. The commercial-scale machines are said to be capable of producing 16 trays of microgreens (young seedlings of edible vegetables and herbs planted very close to home or the kitchen) at a time and can go from seed to harvest in as little as 8 days. 

These tours would eventually inspire Chileshe to start Aiponics, an aquaponic and hydroponic farming startup based in Zambia. “The team spent a year researching and learning about the various techniques involved in conditioning and maintaining an aquaponics ecosystem,” Chileshe said. He also said that since launching the company, Aiponics has successfully proven its own aquaponic prototype by developing a back-garden system that fits in a 40-foot shipping container. 

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