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Below is our recent interview with Phil Gibson, VP of Marketing at AEssenseGrows:
Q: What is the story behind the founding of AEssenseGrows? What was the problem that founder Bob Chen determined needed to be solved?
A: Our founder, Bob Chen, is an interesting guy and has a long history of building successful businesses in Silicon Valley. He previously co-founded RAE Systems (acquired by Honeywell) and AOT Corp. (acquired by HP). When he learned about aeroponics—both the inherent advantages and the challenges—he thought about how integrating advanced technology could simplify aeroponic indoor farming to help solve three 21st century issues: the need for high growth yields for a growing population, food safety, and conservation of resources.
Q: What market is AEssenseGrows serving? Are you primarily in fresh produce, or primarily in cannabis?
A: We are deeply in both. In China, our system is currently being used to produce fresh produce for residents. In the United States, with prohibition ending, the interest has weighed heavily in favor of the new cannabis market, where our system has been proven to deliver high-quality plants at lower costs than traditional farming. In fact, we are moving toward cannabis production at $100 per pound, which is pretty remarkable.
Q: Please describe the distinction between aeroponics vs. other types of indoor growing.
A: Unlike all other systems, aeroponics requires no soil. Plants’ roots are exposed to the air, providing them maximum oxygen for their growth. The roots are sprayed with a nutrients-laced mist. The closest relative to aeroponics is hydroponics, in which the roots are submerged in nutrient-filled water.
As far as yields, aeroponic yields are off the charts—if you can manage the process. That’s where the AEssenseGrows technology comes in. We make managing aeroponics dramatically easier.
Q: What is AEssenseGrows’ key differentiation? Why do your customers prefer your system over competitive systems?
A: In short, we make aeroponics much easier, with more consistent results.
Unlike traditional dirt farming, aeroponics delivers many advantages—namely, near-total control over all the variables involved in growing: lighting, nutrients, air temperature, water quality. If done right, the result is faster growth of high-quality plants. But determining the optimal grow recipe, then executing to it, can be challenging and labor-intensive.
Our precision automated AEtrium grow platform includes a central management system called the Guardian Grow Manager. This software is our key differentiator, and the brains that enable our customers to more easily grow their plants with predictable, repeatable yields.
The Guardian Grow Manager is connected to a network of sensors that monitor the grow environment 24/7. The sensors and software determine whether specific nutrients need to be added and, if so, adds the appropriate nutrients—without human intervention—to maintain the optimal recipe. Growers can monitor and make adjustments, if deemed necessary, through their smartphones or laptops. And the modularity of the system helps make scaling easier.
Q: What are the advantages of indoor farming vs. traditional farming?
A: Indoor farming provides much more control over the variables, and much more control over the end product. In a tightly controlled grow environment, growers don’t need to worry about too much rain or too little rain this season, too much heat or too little heat. An added bonus: With all the control over the variables, growers can more easily run A/B tests to determine the best grow environment for the particular plants. And this type of control is perfect for, in the case of cannabis, conducting medical research.
Of course, that control comes with costs—the sun, for example, is free, whereas grow lights and the energy to run them is not.
Q: What impact are changing cannabis laws having on your business?
A: The impact is large. The economics for indoor growing currently weigh in favor of leafy plants like cannabis, so the vast majority of customers in the United States we see are interested in the cannabis market. And Canada has moved to legalize recreational cannabis as well, so we’ve been working with Canadian businesses as well.
While there is still some uncertainty about whether the US federal government will take steps against the cannabis industry, the general consensus is that the genie is out of the bottle; there’s too broad of support for society to go backwards.
Q: What challenges are you and your competitors facing in adoption of your grow systems, and how do you overcome them?
A: As I mentioned, there remains uncertainty about potential enforcement activity at the federal level, which stifled investment in the industry. But it seems we’re moving past that.
Other than that, our primary challenge can be overcome by education. Many of our customers have years, even decades, of farming experience with soil. They need to understand the full set of tradeoffs and whether the investment in indoor farming makes sense for them. In some cases, frankly, it doesn’t; but in many cases, it does.Activate Social Media: