Introducing households and professional kitchens to the revolution of aeroponics – that is neoFarms’ mission. NeoFarms is developing the appliance that grows your favourite greens automatically. It’s hassle-free, highly productive and easily fits into your kitchen or living space. I recently had the opportunity to meet one of neoFarms founders Maximilian Richter in Hanover.

Society 3.0: “Hi Max! Thanks for taking time out of your day to speak to us. Would you please tell us something about yourself?”

Maximilian Richter: “Well, my name is Maximilian Richter. I am 25 years old, and I was born in Hanover where I also currently live. I studied Industrial Design and finished my bachelor’s degree at the beginning of this year. During my studies, I started working for Volkswagen in Wolfsburg, Germany. I was the only designer in the electronic research department. That’s where I got my first experience in hardware development and how to design for feasibility. Nevertheless, I did not have much enforcement capability due to the strict hierarchy – that’s when I realized that the corporate world was not really my calling. In hindsight I always preferred start-ups – especially when it came to not having a fixed schedule and versatile tasks.

Co-founder Maximilian Richter

Society 3.0: “Can you tell us something about the background of your business? What were your first steps?”

Maximilian Richter: “Henrik Jobczyk, my partner, and I met through our former girlfriends. At that time, Henrik developed a university project, which was the foundation for our company. He has the experience in biotechnology and I in Industrial Design. Since April 2016, we worked part-time and during the weekends. Since September 2016 we’ve worked full-time on our project. We applied for several accelerator programs, where we were often shortlisted but did not make it to the last rounds. We always wanted to go to Amsterdam. Unfortunately, the accelerator program there was not related to greens for consumption. However, someone recommended a FoodTech Accelerator program in Rome. We immediately applied, and even though we were two weeks late with our application, they picked us out of 600 applicants. Because we won the competition, we had the chance to earn feedback from several mentors, managers of big food and tech companies as Barilla, Cisco, Google, and Intel. Nevertheless, we also promised to present a functional design prototype. Our challenge was to find suppliers and team members in a very short time, with the least resources, in a strange environment, and despite language barriers. We soon started to put a great team together. In the end, we had a fantastic group of 8 people from the fields of engineering, design, marketing, sales, and economics. Then everything went pretty fast – from starting to build the business, evaluating the market, finding customers, and developing our prototype.”

Society 3.0: “How did you come up with the idea for neoFarms?”

Maximilian Richter: “My partner Henrik had the future in mind. Due to his background, he was always very much into biotechnology. It is an amusing story. He once opened up the fridge and just got the idea. He thought everyone should have a system like ours in his or her fridge. Aeroponic growing methods have several advantages. The main one is that you can locally grow your food: no packaging problem, which makes it more sustainable, and no mistrust due to potential pesticides. Thus, it provides a high quality that you can usually not get in the regular supermarkets. Did you know that when spinach travels for seven days, it loses 90% of its vitamin content?”

neoFarms' automatic aeroponic greenhouse

Society 3.0: “You often mention that you make use of NASA technology. How did you come up with the technology behind it? With whom did you work together?”

Maximilian Richter: “The technology was originally developed in the USA in the 1980s. The NASA used it first. Nevertheless, NASA’s monopoly on owning the intellectual property has expired, and now we are able to use it as well and develop our own product.”

Society 3.0: “Who would you consider as your main target group?”

Maximilian Richter: “We aim at the gastronomic sector and kitchen producers. We talked to chefs and restaurant owners, and well-known kitchen producers. For them, our product could strengthen their portfolio and their brand.”

Society 3.0: “Can you tell us something about the price of your products?”

Maximilian Richter: “We are planning to sell our product between €2500 and €3500.”

Society 3.0: “In one of your interviews you said the supermarket of the future would have their very own miniature vertical farms. Would you say your idea is it a threat or an opportunity to the regular agricultural market and farmers?”

Maximilian Richter: “Our product is very timely. The population is growing, and we can expect 10 billion people to live on this planet by 2050. I think it is the only way to feed all the people. Urbanization has already lead to the fact that by 2030 more than half of the people on the planet will live in the major cities. To provide everyone with food, especially if people expect their food to be fresh, and as rich as possible in vitamins, they need to grow it additionally themselves.”

Society 3.0: “Where do you see your company in 10 years?”

Maximilian Richter: “We want to be realistic. We do not see our product standing in every kitchen. Nevertheless, cities might use our technology to build up containers in the towns – same goes for shops and supermarkets. The opportunities are endless, and we are sure that our product is not just visionary but needed.”

Society 3.0: “Overall, would you recommend becoming an entrepreneur?”

Maximilian Richter: “I think it is a very personal question. I have friends who chose the corporate way, and they love it! They just want to work in a 9-5 job and be off when they are off. As an entrepreneur, you can set the schedule yourself, and you have a variety of tasks to choose from. Personally, I can say that when this project fails, I will work on something else. I am a maker!”

For more information you can visit neoFarms on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

Read here the BBC article “How vertical farming reinvents agriculture”.

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Morgaine Gerlach
✦ Morgaine has an MPhil in European Studies from Trinity College Dublin and a BBA in Global Project and Change Management from Windesheim Honours College ✦ She lived in Germany, The Netherlands, Finland, Spain, Ireland, Egypt, and is currently working as a Policy Advisor in Brussels✦