photo by voorhes.com
Growth & changes
of iFarm over 2,5 years
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In high-tech startup world pivoting (from English pivot — rotate) means to shift to a new product, business model or field of activity. iFarm founders and employees describe pivots that took place over 2,5 years.
The ability to pivoting is one of competitive advantages of startups over corporations. We can quickly pivoting to new product or business model and large corporations could not, because too many processes are connected with each other, if you change one of them, you have to change another. They could hardly estimate the pivoting consequences. And our company can pivot without fear of consequences.
Maxim Chizhov
iFarm Chief Business Development Officer
Pivot №1
From farm products to SaaS platform
In the very beginning:
iFarm was a producer of farm vegetables, greens and berries. «When we started to choose scaling strategy, we realized that it is possible to become global supplier of final produce, but it can take years ("Coca Cola" entered global market 20 years after foundation, "Mars" - 50). Such a term did not suit us and therefore we took a decision to change our product», — commented Chizhov.
At the present moment:
iFarm is a developer and provider of high-tech business solutions for growing delicious plants in modern urban vertical farms. We are developing SaaS-solutions (from English software as a service), which allow to manage the production anywhere in the world: from microclimate parameters to planting and yield sales planning.
Using iFarm Growtune application, customers can select crops in the virtual catalogue, set the yield weight and press the button. The necessary microclimate parameters will be set on a vertical farm, controllers start the air conditioning, lighting, systems start providing nutrient solutions and carbon dioxide. The system analyzes all the processes on the farm, notifying on deviations, readiness for harvesting and much more. Computer vision and machine learning technologies are been used now to find growth abnormalities at early stages. iFarm neural network can identify the diseases.
New approach made it possible for iFarm to enter the global market in 2 years. The company was founded in June 2017, experiments for growing greens on vertical farms began in May 2018, the first industrial facility was launched in January 2019 and an office was opened in Helsinki in April 2019. Soon the construction activities will be completed in iFarm Finnish showroom.
Pivot №2
From translucent greenhouses to vertical farms
and industrial production
In the very beginning:
iFarm planned to sell automated translucent greenhouses to private customers. «The decision was something between industrial greenhouses, that occupy hectares of land and small greenhouses in a garden. There is no such a market in Russia yet and we had to explain to potential customers how the construction works and why automation will grow vegetables and berries better than human. Due to the fact, that the customer would grow plants only for his personal needs, not for sale the payback period would be 10-12 years. No one wished to invest in it», — said Maxim Chizhov.
At the present moment:
iFarm specialists developed vertical farms of several size, that can be installed anywhere in the world in 2-6 months. There are two ways to make money:

1) purchase technology, install the farm in your city and supply stores and restaurants with the final produce;

2) invest in an industrial object managed by iFarm subsidiary GrowMe.
The Earth population is rapidly increasing and will reach 9.7 billion by 2050, and there is the depletion of land and water resources as a result of traditional farming and industrial activity. The market size of new greenhouse technologies (smart farming), that can feed people by preserving natural resources is estimated about $2,5 billion and will reach $40 billion by 2040. The market is becoming interesting for investments.
Pivot №3
From vermicompost to nutrient solutions
In the very beginning:
iFarm agronomists grew vegetables and greens in translucent greenhouses in 2017-2018, using soil and vermicompost - an organic fertilizer produced as the vermicast by earth worm feeding. «Land growing is difficult to control: each part of garden bed has its own composition, temperature and humidity. In order to get the yield with the same properties you have to unify all these parameters that mean you should put automation sensors in a centimeter. Thus the final produce and the technology would be very expensive», — commented iFarm plant nutrition specialist Natalia Smirnova.
At the present moment:
iFarm agronomists grow greens and berries using organic coconut substrate, peat and mineral wool (factory made substrate) and aeroponics method, a cultivation technique in which the roots hang suspended in the air while nutrient solution is delivered to them in the form of a fine mist. Agrochemists create nutrient solutions for various crops, which are providing plants with all of the macro - and micronutrients. According to Natalia Smirnova, such approach allows the company to get all year round stable yield at industrial facilities around the world. The final produce price does not exceed the average market cost.
Pivot №4
From Arduino to industrial automation
In the very beginning:
The first greenhouse automation was developed using Arduino — electronic prototyping platform. «Such automation was good for small translucent greenhouses (up to 20 sq.m.): it started nutrition, turned on light, opened and closed windows, but it was not suitable for industrial facilities: too "fragile" and unstable.
At the present moment:
Software developers create a universal tool for vertical farms managing and global self-learning system. It regulates growing parameters and continuously improves agro technical crops maps and it needs minimal human resources.
The cost for system creation is high, but it is necessary for industrial production as it guarantees the stability and uninterrupted operation of the facility as well as the final produce quality. In the nearest future it eliminates the human factor from the production process.
Pivot №5
From standard LED-lamps to unique ones
In the very beginning:
The company purchased LED-lamps. According to Konstantin Ulianov, iFarm VP of solution sales, experiments on plants growing under the lamps of another producer were not successful every time. Such situation did not allow to make the technology of growing greens and berries perfect and it delayed the start of vertical farms sales.
At the present moment:
iFarm engineers have developed technical specification for Led-lamps production optimal for vertical farming that was realized under contract manufacturing at plant "Vega-Absolut". Due to the use of high-efficiency LEDs, power consumption reducing was achieved for vertical farms lighting (about 90 W/sq.m.) that resulted in greens cost reduce and made the technology more available.
In iFarm laboratories we are carrying out experiments with light for optimal plants growth and we plan to find out the spectrum needed for each crop at every stage of growth. The approach will allow customers of our technology to grow tasty produce, save power and increase farms profitability.
Pavel Zeeman
iFarm Head of the engineering department
Pivot №6
From farm construction at our own expense
to making a local distributors-partners network
In the very beginning:
The company constructed farms at its own expense and focused on construction, rather than on IT product development. «We realized we do not want to invest in facilities construction. We were more interested in providing tools with which people can grow any plant at vertical farm», — explained Maxim Chizhov.
At the present moment:
iFarm develops a local distributors-partners network around the world. Partners buy iFarm technology and resell it in their countries. Besides, they provide consultations to the customers, perform farm warranty services and organize sale channels for final produce.
The approach allows the company to focus on IT-product and agro technology creation and show high growth. iFarm plans to enter the Middle East market in 2020, including launching vertical farms in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as to be involved in further expansion in Europe, by launching facilities in Switzerland, Sweden, Bulgaria and the United Kingdom after the first European iFarm farm in Finland.
27/12/2019
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