Worrying headlines about food hazards linked to packaging and production methods have heightened public concerns about food safety. Sometimes, even food certifications are not enough to gain consumer trust. Why not grow your own vegetables then?
That was the starting point for HKSTP incubatee Growgreen. The company’s founder and CEO Humphrey Leung is an old friend of Science Park. He founded a well-known semiconductor company here and led it to a successful IPO. While he was considering what to do next after stepping away from the listed company a few years back, the community’s mounting food safety concerns caught his attention. So he set up Growgreen to create a home-use vegetable grower, aspara™, to help people lead healthier lives.
Growgreen was set up in late 2016. The prototype of aspara™ was developed in late 2017. It won a lot of attention and positive feedback in the 2018 CES, and was picked to be exhibited in the EUREKA Park zone designated for outstanding startups. In the International Home + Housewares Show in Chicago in March, the product won the Global Innovative Award. Back in Hong Kong, aspara™ was shown at the Hong Kong Electronics Fair (Autumn Show) in October 2018 and took the Gold Award in the startup category.
Smart systems create an optimal planting environment
The patented aspara™ creates a micro environment for plant growing,integrating a device with a mobile app and other accessories. It is equipped with multiple sensors and more than 10 types of advanced technology to control lighting and water supply in order to develop ideal small spaces for plant growth.
Users can put into the hydroponic smart grower plant seed capsules that look very much like a coffee capsule but made with biodegradable packaging. The grower will detect the code of the capsule and automatically select the right settings to create an optimal environment for that specific plant species.
But that doesn’t mean the users’ role ends there. They will be prompted to add water or fertilizer at various stages in the growing process, so they have a sense of ownership of the produce. By following simple instructions, users can enjoy fresh and pollutant-free vegetables when they are ready for harvesting.
A good supply of a variety of vegetable seeds
Humphrey says the development stage of aspara™ is completed, and the team is now fine-tuning the software. The device was launched on Kickstarter on December 4, 2018 for crowd-funding. In the early stages, the company will supply 15 types of organic and non-genetically-modified vegetable seeds. The variety will be gradually increased to more than 100.
Target users include families, companies, clubhouses and elderly homes. The system will be promoted with the theme of “communal sharing”.
Humphrey is optimistic about the commercial prospects as existing vegetable growing devices in the market have no smart features. He hopes that aspara™,with a full range of accessories and smart technologies, will offer a whole new perspective in the market.
Helping urban folks find health and harmony in life
He observes that people these days are too busy to do anything about tainted or genetically modified vegetables even if they are concerned. aspara™ offers a simple and convenient solution requiring minimum effort to grow risk-free vegetables. He believes that time-poor, health-conscious urban folks will welcome the innovation.
As well, companies can also have a grower installed in the office to let employees grow and share vegetables. It’s like growing their own “crops” in the office and sharing best practices as a form of team-building. It could go a long way towards building a sharing culture within the company.
Humphrey, as a veteran partner of HKSTP, thinks that HKSTP’s incubation programmes are very helpful to startups especially in terms of rental costs, recruitment and product promotion. Growgreen has received help from the HKSTP team to attend international exhibitions and meet potential partners and customers.
More work in R&D
Down the road, Growgreen will step up its R&D to improve on the smart technologies for optimising planting environments and produce smaller grower devices, as well as explore the feasibility of integrating the grower with other home appliances, such as the refrigerator.
Humphrey hopes the team will come up with a personalised grower that will let users analyse their individual nutritional needs and grow matching vegetables. It will be interesting to keep an eye on what will sprout next from his fertile imagination.