Future Greens: graduates secure six-figure investment for vertical farming revolution

A group of recent University of Sheffield graduates are set to transform the world of vertical farming after securing a six figure investment for their sustainable startup.

Future Greens co-founder Gabriele giving a talk to students
  • Four entrepreneurial graduates have secured substantial backing for sustainable Sheffield-based vertical farming startup 
  • ‘Future Greens’ will use food waste to power growing process all year round, enhancing food security and reducing the waste that goes to landfill
  • The team are combining their passion for sustainability with their expertise in computer science, engineering, agriculture and entrepreneurship
  • Co-founder Gabrielė, who did a nine-month internship with the University's Emerge: Be Enterprising team, said the experience was invaluable in their startup journey

A group of recent University of Sheffield graduates are set to transform the world of vertical farming after securing a six figure investment for their sustainable startup.

Two venture capital firms have made substantial investments in Future Greens and the company has received backing from successful Sheffield entrepreneur Ashley Tate, as well as an Innovate UK grant in partnership with the University of Sheffield.

The investment, along with the entrepreneurial guidance the team received at the University, will help Future Greens enhance the resilience of the food system by using food waste to power the growing process.

Based in Sheffield, the pioneering business is the perfect platform for the enterprising alumni to combine their passion for sustainability with their expertise in computer science, engineering, finance and agriculture.

Future Greens started during lockdown in 2020, when Gabrielė Barteškaitė, an Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science student from Lithuania, was on an industrial placement year in the Netherlands. She joined forces with her co-founder David Dixon, a Dutch exchange student she met in Sheffield, who was pursuing a degree in Finance.

Gabrielė said: “I’ve always been interested in building technology to improve our lives and David had an interest in agriculture that stems from his family. We wanted to combine our skills and passions to provide others with better quality food.

"The way I see it, climate change is already happening, and we can't go back in time or stop it completely, thus we must build technology to help us withstand the upcoming environmental shifts. Food is fundamental to our survival; therefore, we are developing a future-proof way of growing it." 

Beginning their journey during the Covid pandemic, the team overcame many obstacles to get to where they are today. 

Their initial attempts at sustainable, organic farming were hindered by the changing weather patterns resulting from climate change. Seeing the inefficient water use of outdoor cultivation and its vulnerability to weather fluctuations, they started to explore vertical farming, a method that shields the crops from outside conditions, and hydroponics, a form of horticulture in which plants are grown in nutrient-enriched water instead of soil.

“After seeing and experiencing these problems ourselves, we saw an opportunity to build technology that would make sustainable agriculture more resilient,” said Gabrielė. 

“From there, we started prototyping indoor farming systems until we arrived at our own low-cost solution.” 

The surge in home shopping due to Covid restrictions resulted in a significant increase in demand for organic vegetable box deliveries. In response, the duo decided to return to Sheffield to establish their business alongside their studies, from the money saved during their placements.

“People loved our salad, and we were soon stocked by multiple local grocers as well as an organic vegetable subscription service,” Gabrielė continued.

“We were worried that consumers would find our approach too high tech to be natural, but they really embraced it. Within two months, we’d reached capacity for our locally-grown pesticide-free greens.”

However, their success was short-lived, with soaring energy prices in 2022 exposing the vulnerability of their vertical farming model, which relied on energy from the grid. The budding entrepreneurs had to close the farm and go back to the drawing board.

Determined to find a solution, Gabrielė and David began investigating renewable energy sources and recruited two more co-founders, Alexander La Fleur and Alastair Roper, who were studying Mechanical Engineering and Computer Systems Engineering at the University of Sheffield.

The Future Greens team in the University of Sheffield's Heartspace

Their breakthrough came when the team investigated anaerobic digestion, the process of breaking down organic matter, such as food waste, to generate energy. This not only aligns with their goal of being a carbon-negative business but also diverts food waste from landfills and fosters a circular farming ecosystem.

Before long, Future Greens secured a grant for extracting organic hydroponic fertiliser from the outputs of anaerobic digestion in partnership with researchers from the university.

Now, the team has a year to implement and launch their state-of-the-art sustainably-powered vertical farm. They are soon to move into their new Attercliffe site and until then are based at Sheffield Technology Park’s Cooper Project; an initiative designed to help tech entrepreneurs by providing free work space and tailored startup support.

Gabrielė, who undertook a nine-month internship with the University of Sheffield’s Emerge: Be Enterprising team, said the skills she acquired during her internship and studies were invaluable.

My internship was crucial in getting Future Greens up and running again,

said Gabrielė

“Aside from the financial support, it put us in contact with other start-ups launched by university graduates, which was very motivating and led to a few investor introductions.

“It was also amazing to be able to support others with what I had learnt. Even though I’m at the very beginning of my entrepreneurship journey, it was great to see my experience acquired so far was of value to current students.”

Emerge: Be Enterprising brings students, graduates, staff, experts and businesses together to form a diverse, enterprising community. 

Tom Hemington, from the University’s Emerge: Be Enterprising team, said: “We are absolutely thrilled for Gabrielė and the remarkable Future Greens team, who have worked incredibly hard to reach this exciting milestone.

“We’ll be following Future Greens’ progress closely and look forward to trying the delicious and nutritious vegetables once they’re fully operational.

“It’s also very pleasing to hear that Gabrielė took so much from her time with our team, and that she was able to pass on her learning to others. 

“It’s our mission to empower the next generation to positively transform the world, and Gabrielė and the Future Greens team are a fantastic example of what can be achieved.”

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