Bringing sustainability to vertical farming

When Marcus received the Young Innovators Award from Innovate UK and The Prince’s Trust, his time was split between his day job as a freelance design engineer and progressing his concept for a sustainability-focused vertical farming innovation.

Fast-forward 12 months and his business GyroPlant has reached patent-pending status for its hero product, the GrowCup™, and he is now partnering with one of the country’s leading vertical farming specialists to open routes to market.

Marcus says, “GyroPlant has gone from a hobby garden project to partnering with a leading vertical farming technology company, all within the Young Innovators Programme.”

Fresh vision

Marcus’s vision led to the development of a novel reusable cup that allows seeds to grow in, to make vertical farming easier and more sustainable.

“Although vertical farming promises to deliver sustainable food, currently, non-reusable growing substrates such as rock wool and plastic are used to grow plants in, and are thrown away at harvest. This creates tons of waste per farm and is a lesser known industrial waste from vertical food farming,” he says.

“GyroPlant has solved this issue by designing a patent-pending reusable GrowCup™ which allows plants to grow substrate-free. Reusable coffee cups, for example, are far more sustainable than single use coffee cups. Our product takes the same approach to vertical farming substrates.”

Early testing

Following initial support from the Douglas Bomford Trust, Marcus was selected as a Young Innovator in December 2020 armed with a design concept.

He deployed the Innovate UK award funding to invest in additive manufacturing techniques in order to develop a prototype. Marcus then partnered with another Young Innovator, FYTO Ltd Founder Greg Short, for early concept testing.

“Shortly into the programme we realised we had to focus on one component of our larger system in order for the business to grow. This pivot soon became crucial, to prevent a prolonged R&D phase which would have been financially unsustainable. With assistance from the Young Innovators support network, it became clear that was the best decision,” says Marcus.

This also led to the discovery of new potential markets and business opportunities. The company’s vertical farming technology partner will now support further testing and open routes to customers.

“We are already in testing trials and, on completion, we aim for the product to be part of their turnkey engineering projects, which provide large-scale vertical food farm solutions globally.”

Self-transformation

For Marcus, a key focus of the programme has been the self-transformation from engineer to innovator.

He says, “With help from my Innovate UK EDGE Innovation Champion, I learnt how to set up, run and grow a business with confidence. I learnt to take risks so the business could find its path, pivot and experiment where necessary.”

He adds, “The personal confidence enabled me to make the most of our networking, and I have formed invaluable connections with partners and collaborators.”

As well as the support from his Innovation Champion, Marcus says he found Innovate UK KTN’s Bootcamps – where Young Innovators receive intensive upskilling and networking sessions – hugely beneficial.

“The Bootcamps were really useful to understand the ways in which other Young Innovators were growing and to learn from them. They were also fundamental in forming connections that proved valuable later down the line,” says Marcus.

“The media and communication awareness that came from the Young Innovators programme has helped to get me noticed and the legal workshops led to an IP audit which led – eventually! – to patent-pending status.”

Reaching customers

Marcus’s key ambition for the coming 12 months is to get the product in the hands of customers. And, while the funding proved crucial in transforming his hobby into a business, for Marcus the wider package of business support provided through the programme is what has underpinned GyroPlant’s growth trajectory.

He says, “To grow a business you need to understand the potential routes, be aware of the tools, and develop personal skills to get you there. The Young Innovators programme enables you to take risks with relatively little consequences. Keep trying different things and eventually one of them will work out.”

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