A graduate who invented a hydroponic growing system for agriculture will compete in this week’s NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards.
Adam Dixon (BEng 2016), has been shortlisted for ‘Innovation Entrepreneur of the Year’ in the Cardiff final on 4 October.
The former Cardiff University engineering student is bringing to market Phytoponics – a revolutionary patent-pending growing system. Described as a ‘Jacuzzi in a bag’, the Phytoponics system rolls out and inflates to provide a safe haven for a range of commercial plants, from salads to vines, growing plants very fast. The sealed unit delivers nutrient-rich water to roots through an integrated aerator whilst keeping moisture in, and pests out. Made from a high tech polymer, the system can be transported cheaply and installed quickly by unrolling, inflating and connecting to power and water supplies on the farm.
Adam, originally from York, said: “My aim is to develop a franchise to produce the freshest produce in the world. Phytoponics has the power to increase the profitability of food growing in the UK, increase food security and reduce food imports.
“On a global stage, it is intensive but environmentally friendly, freeing up land by offering high consistent yields with high resource efficiency. It minimises the use of water, energy and fertilisers, and above all increases the quality of the product – making the food much more nutritious.”
Phytoponics – which means ‘plant work’ in Greek – was established in 2016. It now employs eight specialists including biotechnologists and hydroponic agronomists, with expertise garnered from Italy and the UK.
Adam added: “Phytoponics has been described as a Jacuzzi in a bag because plant roots get access to oxygen through specially designed air strips inside the sealed system. The roots of plants can access both nutrient-rich water, and an oxygen-rich nutrient mist zone. It’s that injection of oxygen that helps produce really healthy plants.”
Backed by two acceleration programmes and angel investment, the company – valued at £2m by Finance Wales – is raising a £600,000 seed round and looking for the last £180,000 (£150,000 SEIS) to close it by January 2018 and enter the market after trials later that year.
Phytoponics and Adam have already clinched a string of awards including Innovative Start-Up of the Year at the Wales StartUp Awards 2017, American Society of Mechanical Engineers iSHOW 2016 fan favourite, and are currently shortlisted as finalists for UN Young Champions of The Earth, and Shell Livewire.
Their business plan was awarded £1,000 by Cardiff University Student Enterprise’s Spark competition in May 2017, which is open for submissions in November 2017.
Beyond market profitability, Adam says portability and rapid seed-to-yield times gives Phytoponics scope for humanitarian applications around the world.
“We worked with the UN World Food Programme’s Innovation sector, and modelled the system by affordably providing full calories for 200 people per hectare in Kenyan refugee camps. In areas of water scarcity, Phytoponics has huge potential to save lives later in our journey.”
Spark is the Annual Ideas Competition for Cardiff University students and graduates, with an overall shared prize pot of over £20,000 worth of cash and support available. Cardiff University students can apply by 5 November 2017.