Picture a small-scale, vertical, edible garden that grows herbs and microgreens in urban cafés. It’s environmentally-conscious, sustainable, visually appealing—and it’s being turned into a reality right now by Farmwall at the Melbourne Innovation Centre in Alphington.
Farmwall is a community-oriented social enterprise that aims to grow fresh, local and natural produce in close proximity to food venues. This groundbreaking concept will provide custom design, installation, and maintenance of vertical farms and fresh produce maintenance systems inside restaurants to provide high-value crops at chefs’ fingertips.
Farmwall cofounder, Geert Hendrix, explains the motivation behind the Melbourne-based startup. “It’s possible to combine food production, design, and nature through innovative science and technologies. If we grow our food in coherence with natural ecosystems and implement this mindset in designing our living spaces, we create a beautiful, healthier environment for ourselves, as well as solving major issues that cause climate change and pollution.”
Environmentally, the Farmwall reduces food miles, food waste, pesticide and herbicide usage, water and energy costs, and deforestation.
In addition to vertical farms, Farmwall will also build urban aquaponics farms on under-performing land such as parking lots and rooftops. “Transforming them into food-producing spaces,” Hendrix describes. Farmwall intends to inspire the city-based food industry to pursue a more sustainable approach to acquiring fresh produce.
Melbourne Innovation Centre’s CEO, David Williamson, says, “We are really excited to have Farmwall joining MIC’s business incubator program. Farmwall is addressing some key market and societal issues around food security and urban farming, combined with a unique and clever business and distribution model.”
Farmwall will build its prototype and establish its first aquaponics system while at MIC. Few locations in Metropolitan Melbourne could provide the necessary resources to nurture such a project, including onsite workshop space and land, business mentoring and support, and a diverse business community for collaboration. Hendrix applied after hearing about MIC’s strong track record as a business incubator.
The prototype will be built in workshop space and the aquaponics system will be set up on outdoor MIC land. This system will grow vegetables sustainably using fish, water, and sun, with the aim of supplying restaurants without a Farmwall with local produce and providing those that do with larger produce that won’t fit within the structure.
MIC’s Business Incubator has a strong relationship with the City of Darebin, utilising a council asset to grow local businesses and create jobs. Williamson says, “The energy of Farmwall’s highly credentialed team is abundant and we feel they are a great cultural fit within the existing MIC incubator community, as well as the broader local community and the City of Darebin.”
The first sketch of Farmwall was made in October 2016 and the team has rocketed through Melbourne’s startup ecosystem in the short time since. They joined the Nest Coworking community in December 2016, taking part in the boost program and receiving valuable support and assistance from owner Jay Chubb. In May 2017, Farmwall started the Two Feet acceleration program at The Difference Incubator (TDI), which will run until October this year. Through this, the team has already learned how to design a solid model and dig deep into their value proposition, intent, and customer desirability.
TDI Two Feet Program Lead, Meagan Williams, believes, “That a sustainable, values-driven business that is financially and commercially sustainable is the greatest tool for change. Our Two Feet program aims to help entrepreneurs understand the critical elements needed to build a sustainable business, identify the gaps in their current business model, and what to do next on their journey to sustainability.”
Farmwall’s journey highlights that there is a definite shift in the right direction in the startup ecosystem in Melbourne.
“Initiatives such as LaunchVIC are seeking to build a more cohesive start-up ecosystem,” Williamson says. “This is case in point of how the ecosystem can work in tandem, with Farmwall utilising coworking space at Nest in Thornbury, receiving support and participating in The Difference Incubator’s program, and now launching into the validation and enterprise phase at Melbourne Innovation Centre.”
The multilayered startup network is firmly in place to support Melbourne-based businesses like Farmwall. And the more sustainable, globally-conscious entrepreneurs that grow out of it, the closer Melbourne will be to leading the world into a better future.
As Hendrix says, “The world looks like a very bright, positive, and happy space when we imagine our cities as green, natural and productive spaces: abundance, resilience, jobs and community without harming our environment.”
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