Too dry, over-fertilized or is everything OK? The wrong kind of care can kill plants. Hobby gardeners can probably get over that. Yet in agriculture, it quickly causes great damage. And that can have devastating effects on the environment. To enable both private individuals as well as professionals to obtain information about their plants’ health status at anytime, the founders of Phytoprove, Daniel Weber and Thomas Berberich, have developed a handy device that quickly measures the current fertilizer and water levels of plants. This model is now going into series production. The two plant physiologists are convinced that this practical device will make a significant contribution towards achieving the UN’s sustainability goals.
Daniel Weber, founder and managing director, and Thomas Berberich, founder and laboratory manager, of Phytoprove in an interview for our “Start-up of the day” series.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR PHYTOPROVE?
After more than 10 years of joint research into the adaptation of plants to extreme conditions such as heat, cold, drought and nutrient deficiency, we came up with the idea to develop devices, based on laboratory measurements, that anyone can use to assess the fertilization and water levels of plants. The results appear in an app on a smartphone, which virtually everyone owns nowadays.
WHAT ARE THE SPECIAL APPLICATION AREAS OF YOUR PRODUCT?
Professional vegetable growers, gardeners and green area offices as well as private users such as hobby gardeners and community gardeners, catchphrase – ‘Urban Gardening’ – are able to use our devices in order to quickly and easily check the health and supply levels of their plants.
IS THERE ANYTHING LIKE THIS ALREADY OR WHAT MAKES YOUR PRODUCT SO SPECIAL?
So far, such a device doesn’t exist yet. The special thing about our system is that it is easy to handle, plants are not hurt, monitoring only takes a second and is independent of the plant species being measured. We don’t want to talk about the price here just yet, but it will be affordable for everyone who is interested.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE YOU HAD TO OVERCOME IN THE BEGINNING?
The biggest hurdle from the start is and remains financing. In our experience, there is no real risk capital in Germany for start-ups in their very early stages. The whole process is very laborious.
WAS THERE A MOMENT WHERE YOU WANTED TO GIVE UP?
It wasn’t that long ago that we learned that we could be funded if we could generate and demonstrate sales. But how are you supposed to generate sales when you first need money to produce a series from a prototype?
AND VICE VERSA: WHAT WAS THE BEST MOMENT FOR YOU WHEN FOUNDING PHYTOPROVE, WHAT MADE YOU PARTICULARLY PROUD?
Without a doubt, when we were among the top five in the Science4Life Venture Cup with our business plan and ended up in second place. The cooperation with the Science4Life team, the coaches and discussions with the other start-up teams were very valuable and motivating for us.
WHAT CAN WE LOOK FORWARD TO IN THE NEXT YEARS, IN OTHER WORDS: WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM YOU IN THE UPCOMING YEARS?
We see enormous potential in precision farming, so we are working on further developing this method and equipment in order to integrate it into a monitoring device for agricultural machinery.
WHAT DRIVES YOU EVERY EVERY DAY?
We both enjoy working together and developing our business. That alone is enough for our daily motivation!
WHAT IS YOUR VISION: WHERE DO YOU SEE YOUR COMPANY IN 5 YEARS AND WHAT IS YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL?
In five years, we want to be represented in the market worldwide. Our product, which has been further developed for precision farming, should also be available. This means, of course, that by then we will have expanded our team with at least five employees.
“With our approaches to the early diagnosis of plants, we not only want to expand our company Phytoprove, but also make a significant contribution towards meeting the UN’s sustainability goals. Precise, needs-based fertilization and watering, which is based on the evaluation of the actual plant condition, not only enables users to manage their crops more economically, but also makes a very concrete contribution towards preventing environmentally harmful and resource-wasting over-fertilization, protecting water resources, protecting groundwater and soil biodiversity and, considering the challenges of global change, making agriculture more sustainable and future-oriented.”
Daniel Weber is a graduate biologist and retailer. For five years, he was managing director of a textile trading company (GmbH) and a traveling salesman. As an employee in research projects, he has more than ten years of experience in the biophysical recording and evaluation of performance parameters and physiology of stress in plants. Until 2017, he also managed his company DW-Biomonitoring, which specializes in freelance contract research and consulting.
Thomas Berberich has been the head of the molecular biological laboratory center of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (SBiK-F) since 2010. He holds a doctorate in biology, has specialized in botany and conducts research in the field of molecular plant physiology. He contributes his international experience as a project manager and has taken over the scientific management of the company.
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