Next up in our Startup Showcase Q&A series is Michael Setton, CEO of TipCrop. This startup's smart lighting platform allows growers to fine-tune the temperature, humidity levels, and LED intensity of their indoor crops. Their technology and indoor grow systems are used by chefs and urban farmers to grow microgreens, herbs, and other produce with high levels of control.
Read on to learn more about how TipCrop is using machine learning to facilitate indoor farming, educate kids about plants, and even control how fragrant your basil is.
And if you want to meet the TipCrop team in person and see their tech in action, register for SKS Europe in Dublin on June 11-12th!
Q: First thing’s first: give us your 15-second elevator pitch.
A: Tip Crop Oasis puts freshness and flavor at your fingertips by providing you with the best light "recipes" to grow amazing microgreens. Our simple, convenient, and efficient technology will bring more zing to your cooking
Q: How exactly does TipCrop use IoT, AI & big data to improve indoor farming crop yields?
A: There is a huge amount of plant science expertise worldwide, but it is very scattered and usually only accessible to professionals. The Internet of Things and AI are transforming factory automation and lowering the barriers to technology diffusion. We are convinced that sharing and crowdsourcing knowledge will improve not just crop yields, but also taste of what can be grown indoors -- and it allows it to be tailored to your own preferences.
Q: Tell us about your Quantum Core service.
A: We draw a parallel between the way light spectrum affects plants taste and phytonutrients and the way temperature controls ‘Maillard reactions’ (or caramelization) when cooking food. Photons interact with photoreceptors in plants and enhance or reduce certain traits they exhibit when exposed to full sun spectrum.
By controlling the light emitted by each LED, you can adjust its levels to produce sweeter stevia, more fragrant basil or hotter radishes. Quantum Core aims to use machine learning techniques to quickly understand what are the key wavelengths to select at the various stages in order to optimize culinary and medicinal plant growth.
Q: What is TipCrop’s target audience? Is it geared towards small-scale farmers, home growers, larger industrial indoor producers, or some combination?
A: Consumers are increasingly looking for food that's locally produced and more nutritious. If you enjoy cooking, you take care and pleasure in selecting your ingredients; we give everybody the opportunity to become producers and experience the joy of growing delicious plants throughout the year. That means that chefs will now become both the producers and buyers of herbs and plants they use for their recipes.
In the B2B space, our mesh networking approach ensures scalability and dramatically lowers the entry costs for large scale indoor farming.
Q: How will TipCrop change the day-to-day life of its users?
A: Gourmet experiences should not be restricted to restaurants or upscale grocery stores. By democratizing microgreens, we hope to put a little more excitement in people’s plates (or drinks) and get our customers to discover a whole range of new flavors and combinations. Tip Crop will show its users that it is possible, easy, and fun to grow our food indoors — and to do it quickly, with less water, and without pesticides. The Oasis approach brings consistent quality and nutrient content to plants, and we hope it will encourage people to think outside the box and be a bit more adventurous when it comes to culinary herbs and their uses.
We also expect to make a difference when it comes to education as kids will be excited to discover and explore interactions between light, plants and flavor in a hands-on way.
Q: What’s next for TipCrop?
A: We will continue to bring expertise to point of growth/use for each stage. We will help producers and consumers, who rarely interacted before, to start working together to come up with the light recipes to make the best-tasting plans.
We are also considering a crowdfunding campaign to launch TipCrop Oasis on a global basis. On the B2B front, within a year we would like to demonstrate the gains of our approach with respect to urban farming, possibly via partnership with professional kitchen manufacturers looking to add smart products to their catalog.
Q: What’s the most challenging part of getting a food tech startup off the ground?
A: From a business point of view, I think we are facing the same challenges that any IoT hardware startup encounters in terms of bill of materials costs, design for manufacturing, supply chain or software integration. We went through several designs to reach the current product — which is small enough to fit in any interior space.
When it comes to food tech, the journey may be tougher than in other domains because taste and flavors are so very personal. What is uniquely rewarding however, is the satisfaction of hearing when people taste what can be grown using Tip Crop and say “Oh Wow!’
Thanks for speaking with us, Michael! If you want to see TipCrop pitch their product at our Startup Showcase in Dublin this June, register here.