€1.5 million investment for RSM vertical farming entrepreneur

GrowX, an organisation focusing on enabling the growing of fresh food in Amsterdam, has received a €1.5 million investment to set up ‘vertical farms’ for growing food in cities. GrowX was co-founded by John Apesos, an MBA alumnus from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). The investment comes from the Amsterdam Climate & Energy Fund (AKEF), the City of Amsterdam’s sustainable investment fund, and the National Groenfonds, which promotes the development, management and conservation of nature and landscape in the Netherlands.

“There’s a lot that’s wrong with the way we produce food”, says entrepreneur John Apesos, who graduated from RSM’s International Full-time MBA in 2009. “We expect always to be able to buy fruit and vegetables in the store, so we get products from Spain, India and North Africa. At the same time, food production in fields uses a lot of water and exhausts the nutrients in the soil,” he said.

Vertical farms

His Amsterdam-based company GrowX hopes to change that by creating ‘vertical farms’. These are closed growing units that can be installed in any building. Plants get exactly the right amount of light, air, water and nutrients, and are not sprayed with agrochemicals. "It's a bit like making music for a plant," said Apesos. “The plants genetics will respond to their environment; with our customers we develop phenotype for that specific seed. When the right seed is in the right production environment, the plant factory will create a consistently wonderful product, every day, year-round.”

The modular units have LED lighting and a water tank. “Plants need less water for growing – 90 per cent less than when growing in fields – and less transport is needed because products are grown locally,” explained Apesos, who has been developing the seven-square-metre units since 2011.

Growing locally

The Amsterdam Climate & Energy Fund’s objective is to contribute to the sustainability goals of the City of Amsterdam. It provides financial support to projects that focus on saving energy, sustainable power generation and energy efficiency. The Nationaal Groenfonds’ mission is to promote the development, management and conservation of nature and landscape in the Netherlands as well as advancing the relationship between nature, society and environment. 

The €1.5 million investment by AKEF and Nationaal Groenfonds enables Apesos and Jens Ruijg, operations director at GrowX, to build the first commercial pilot project in The Netherlands. GrowX aims to grow 180 tonnes of herbs and salad vegetables in the Amsterdam region annually – mainly for the hospitality industry. “Our target customers are responding enthusiastically,” says Apesos. "They are drawn to the idea and curious to taste the products."

Career in sustainability

Ultimately, Apesos hopes to take his concept back to his native USA, and to Asia. "But we’re starting small," he says. "We want to be really satisfied with our product, and then repeat it."

John Apesos will be one of the speakers at the Sustainability Career Panel at RSM on Tuesday 17 May. He is poised to discuss the importance of perseverance when partnering with business investors to scale up a sustainable business model. 

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s leading business schools, and ranked among the top three for research. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who carry their innovative mindset into a sustainable future thanks to a first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes. RSM also has offices in Chengdu, China, and Taipei, Taiwan.

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