Bright Agrotech is helping spearhead a movement in the food industry it calls vertical farming. The company, based in Laramie, WY, uses its ZipGrow technology and own farming experience to empower modern farmers around the world. Recently, Bright Agrotech unveiled the ZipFarm, a complete indoor vertical farming solution for commercial farmers of all sizes growing in urban areas or harsh climates.
Using Bright Agrotech’s core ZipGrow tower technology, ZipFarms enable very productive, high-density vertical farming without any soil. What makes the ZipFarm unique from other vertical farming systems is that it is fundamentally designed for people. While the towers are productive from a growing standpoint, they also reduce farming costs and waste—improving quality of life and increasing transparency throughout the entire farming process.
To develop the ZipFarm system, Bright Agrotech uses a variety of Autodesk tools, including Autodesk Fusion 360 software, provided by the Autodesk Entrepreneur Impact Program. For its impactful approach to farming, Bright Agrotech is being recognized as the Autodesk Inventing the Future recipient for December.
Autodesk seeks Inventing the Future candidates each month from its Manufacturing customer base through a brief Q&A interview on a company or individual addressing their business, products and inventive spirit. Here is what Bright Agrotech CEO Nate Storey had to say about leveraging Autodesk software:
Autodesk: What does your company develop, and why is it important for the world?
Storey: Bright Agrotech creates the hardware, software and services that change how food is grown, sold and consumed across the world. Indoor, controlled-environment growing can solve food security issues from urban environments to remote communities, but the people in these communities have always lacked efficient equipment to grow their own food. We have designed equipment that is three times more efficient than traditional equipment and matched it with support, information and software that enable anyone, anywhere to grow food for their community.
This is important because food security is still a major problem in the world. We’ve made great strides at providing caloric food to most places and people in the world, but calories and nutrients are not the same, so figuring out how to grow nutrient dense foods near the places that they are consumed is pretty important. Whether it’s a food desert in downtown Denver or a northern village in Alaska, growers are using our equipment to put more nutritious food in the mouths of people who need it. The only way to do this is to make farming simple and more accessible to people who have never farmed before. That’s what we try to do.
Autodesk: How has adopting technology helped your company evolve?
Storey: Technology adoption and development has driven us from a small company operating out of a storage unit to a company with international distribution and supply chains in five years.
We use Autodesk products to design and model equipment that solves problems that no one else has solved, including growing equipment, plumbing systems and lighting systems. As a direct-to-consumer Internet retailer that relies on very relational marketing, often using social media, we have learned that embracing technology is the only way to solve many problems and bootstrap a world-changing business.
Agriculture is renowned for being slow to adopt technology. It’s not because the industry isn’t interested in efficiency, but because the industry rewards extremely conservative behavior. This has made it a tough market for us at times. But it has pushed us to create a message that technology can enable non-farmers to become farmers, and that technology can overcome the information and network barriers preventing concerned or passionate people from entering the industry. This means we end up building markets instead of recruiting from markets, which is tough, but rewarding. And, of course, we have to use a lot of different design, management, accounting and manufacturing technologies to stay on top of it all.
Autodesk: What Autodesk software do you use and why?
Storey: We primarily use Autodesk Fusion 360, Autodesk AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor and have plans to start using Showcase and 3ds Max. These programs are used for part design, assembly and to create visuals. We’ve been given access to these programs and more through the Entrepreneur Impact Program.
Autodesk software has allowed us to refine our design process and better communicate the value of our products. This is something that has always been tough for us because we’ve built our entire business from the ground up and we’ve always worked on a tight budget. Being able to communicate design variables and outcomes more clearly helps us save money and stay on track organizationally. We spend less time prototyping on the front end and more time designing exactly what we need.
Autodesk software has helped us increase the velocity of our product development process while increasing our confidence to tackle more ambitious, game-changing products. Without Autodesk software, these projects would traditionally be cost-prohibitive for our small, but rapidly growing organization due to the increased expense of traditional trial and error development.
Autodesk: Where do you see your business five years from now? In 10 years?
Storey: In five years, Bright Agrotech envisions having growers from Antarctica to the Arctic Circle growing with powerful hardware and connected by software. They will be providing fresh food to communities that have never experienced fresh food before. We anticipate that local producers of all sizes will be using our ZipGrow products to connect with their market in new, meaningful ways, from coast to coast in the U.S., and all around the world.
Every year for the last few years, we’ve tripled the size of our company. Maintaining this momentum and growth rate is a constant challenge, but we have an incredible team with the right ambition for the job. As the demand for fresher, more transparent food soars over the next decade, Bright Agrotech will be right there providing answers to industry problems and empowering growers to serve their markets with the right hardware and software tools. In a market as big as food and farming, there will be plenty of problems to solve for years to come, and plenty of growth as a result.
Autodesk: What does the future of making things mean to you as a farmer and farmer advocate?
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Storey: Farming is where we started and is something that we can never really escape. It gets in your blood. It’s something that has driven us to build new technology to enable more people to farm while staying true to the old values. We’re about food and feeding people, and that’s something that we’ll always be about. We’ve had to move more and more into the manufacturing and technology space, mostly because we need to share our solutions to the problems we faced as farmers with other farmers. As we’ve done that, we’ve realized that the best way for us to serve this industry is by continuing to engineer solutions to the problems that have prevented small growers from competing with large ones for so long. We are farmers at our core and we feel strongly enough about the benefits of local farming that we’ve gone all in on providing these solutions and trying to make sure the industry has all of the tools necessary to give big agriculture a run for its money.
Despite the fact that the bulk of our revenues are from manufacturing these days, we still farm and have partnered with a number of our farmers. As a result, we still feel like farmers even though we’re spending more time in offices and less time in the greenhouse now. It’s not an easy transition to make, but it’s a transition born of conviction that we think will bear a lot of fruit in the long run.
Check out this video to see Bright Agrotech technology in action.
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