With an increasing number of the population opting to reside in cities around the globe, urban farming has become increasingly popular as people seek to provide their own form of food security. But growing plants outside of their normal environments can be challenging for many staple crops we rely on.
Meet the founder, Nikolai Macnee of Metrovate. He is one of the start-ups taking part in our three-month Sprout 2023 Accelerator in the Cohort X intake.
Metrovate develops biostimulants for plants grown in controlled environments and strives to enable increased plant diversity within urban farms through the application of cutting-edge research and development.
“There is a huge lack of diversity in urban farms currently and often plants are grown in a relatively crude nature in relation to the biological context. We’ve done work on lighting and robotic automation of how to move the plants around but in my opinion, there isn’t a highly advanced solution to the problem of ‘we want to grow plants outside their normal environment, but how do we replicate the signals in the soil.”
While some crops, like lettuce, don’t require much input, Nikolai said that to start growing more diverse crops, being able to recreate the biological environment is key.
Nikolai is currently the sole founder and only person on the team for Metrovate, whose name is thanks to his dad’s clever thinking during a word association game. His background in plant molecular biology and focus on how plants naturally signal between cells and within cells led him to see new revenues for product development and so, Metrovate was born.
At the beginning of his journey, he thought he might become a vertical farmer himself and figure out a way of optimising that process, but he’s ended up going in another direction.
“It’s been a learning curve but I realised that being a research and development institution would be the best way to benefit the large community and allow me a good focus. It’s an ongoing process of working out the exact market segments that will work best for me.”
Nikolai’s key driver for Metrovate is simple - making food available to the people that need it. While he acknowledges that it’s a long-term goal and there are several steps to get there he’s got a clear vision of how it might play out. Now that he has answered the question of ‘Can I do this scientifically’ his next step is launching his R&D facility to test designs of novel peptides that can stimulate growth and to start partnering with local companies.
At this stage in his business journey, he’s now having to shift his focus to the business side and take an in-depth look at his potential market, what they want, what they need and how Metrovate would work for those people's systems.
“Looking back I don’t think I would have done anything differently at the start of my journey. One thing I always knew would be important no matter the direction Metrovate took was building my own vertical farm, which I’ve done in my shed in central Auckland. While I probably could have further developed certain parts of the business earlier, doing things how I have has enabled me to understand some of the pain points myself.”
Nikolai said he’s lucky to have a friend group who are heavily involved in the entrepreneurial world and often calls on their help to refine his investor pitches and offer general support.
“Talking to other entrepreneurs is a really great strategy for dealing with feelings of fear or doubt, I’m lucky to have the network and support that I do.”
He is hoping that Sprout will be able to support him in developing his value proposition to potential customers and investors and guide him in the development of his R&D facility.