- Founders: Hannah Brown, Dominik Feiden, Marian Bolz and Mario Schäfer
- Founded in: 2021
- Employees: 11
- Money raised: 1 million euro in nondilutive funding
- Ultimate goal: Taking vertical farming and greenhouses to a next level by automating complex processes in indoor farming systems.
When Hannah Brown attended a hackathon in Berlin 2.5 years ago, she could’ve never imagined she would now run a company with eleven employees with her former hackathon teammates. “Dominik [Dominik Feiden, co-founder, red.] pitched an idea about vertical farming and agricultural food production. I immediately found it interesting and joined his team. And we never stopped being teammates.” German start-up Organifarms automates complex processes in indoor farming systems to reduce labor demand and high costs.
In this episode of start-up of the day, Hannah Brown, co-founder and communication officer, tells about the story behind BERRY, Organifarms’ automated, strawberry picking robot.
Which problem does Organifarms solve?
“Strawberry growers are facing high labour demand, high labour costs ánd a labour shortage. They are struggling. It has been like that for a while now, but Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine made it worse. This is the heart of the problem we’re solving: we want to help these farmers.”
How are you planning to do that?
“We have developed a robot, named BERRY, that automates labor intensive tasks such as the harvest, quality control and packaging of the fruit. Our technology consists of an autonomous platform, a robot arm, both developed by partners, and a storage system and gripper that we developed ourselves. Central to our technology is our self-developed software: image recognition and robot navigation. This software can detect the fruits, the position, degree of ripeness and quality defects. Then BERRY picks the fruits. It cuts right over the fruit, grips it and places it into the storage. The punnets are weighed. We can store up to four crates (twenty kilos) on the robot.”
“In the future we can adapt our technology to other crop types. But for now, we focus on strawberries only. They are small, demand a lot of labour and have a high market margin. It makes sense for strawberry farmers to invest money in a robot.”
Organifarms isn’t the only company developing robots for the agricultural sector. How do you feel about the competition?
“There definitely is some competition. We always have an eye on them. But right now, it’s looking quite good. Other companies are taking longer to develop their product. They also focus on other fruits and products, that helps. For now, with the competition there is, the market is large enough.”
What has been the biggest obstacle so far?
“Actually everything has worked out pretty good so far. But if I had to name one thing, it would be finding the right people. We made a development plan where you want people on specific positions to do certain things in a timeframe, and it takes much longer to find them. A lot of start-ups struggle with that. My biggest tip for other start-ups would be to compose a team of people that are complementary to each other. If your employees have different backgrounds, characters and ways of doing things, that’s a good thing for your company.”
Where do you stand now and where do you want to be in five years from now?
“We’re still running tests throughout the season. This summer and fall we’ll be doing some pilots with customers and we’re planning to sell the first robots at the end of this year.”
“In five years, we want to have a great product on the market that helps growers with everyday work. By then, we’ve probably added more features, so the robot can do more than just harvesting. We have to see what our customers need and develop a product that fits their needs. Of course, we also want to expand to other countries in Europe. Right now, we focus on Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.”