We Swedes love nature. More than 80% of us live within 5 km of a nature area and Allemansrätten means you’ll find us outside exploring forests for mushrooms and scouring low shrubs for wild-growing bilberries. But like many cities, in Stockholm there are limited ways to source locally grown food. You could sign up to queue for a highly coveted allotment garden (some people wait 2 years or more!) or shop at a farmers’ market during summer. You could register on Co-Grow and pray that someone living nearby will be willing to let you take control of their unused garden space. Or if you’re really patient, you’ll wait for Plantagon to construct vertical farms in Linköping and Botkyrka. But what if you could grow organic vegetables yourself, all year round, even if you have no access to land? That’s what Gaia is aiming for with their trademarked Gaia Grow System™. By purchasing one of their hydroponic growing units, even landless urbanites can be part-time farmers—like the happy growers with an enviable cornucopia of tomatoes, cucumbers, greens, and strawberries on Instagram.
True to its roots (pun intended), the Swedish startup Gaia (whose name comes from the Greek Mother Earth goddess) employs a Scandinavian design through and through. The growing units are low-tech, simple to use, and aesthetically elegant. But what really sets it apart is its modular design: instead of focusing on one market (B2C or B2B) and developing a suite of different products, Gaia has designed just one model that can be used on its own or stacked for commercial use. This means that the same product can serve an individual living in a studio apartment as well as an entrepreneur looking to turn an unused warehouse into a hydroponic farm. Their model also fosters an ecosystem of add-ons to provide future revenue streams, including grow lights and trestles for climbing plants.
There’s no debate that we need to change our food system. The dominant form of agriculture has degraded the environment and made it such that just a handful of corporations control our food supply. In urban areas in particular, close to all of our food is imported. But being fully reliant on imports is a tenuous position with regards to food security and resiliency. Using the Gaia Grow System™, Sweden’s increasingly urban population can finally play a significant part in chipping away at the problem, and grow food locally without using pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides. As a hydroponic system, the unit uses 1/10th of the freshwater (another scarcity!) compared to conventional farming, and the plants grow very quickly without competition for resources like nutrients and light.
Hasse Göth, CEO hopes that the Gaia Grow System™ will drive economic activity. Anyone will be able to set up their own fruit- or vegetable-growing business with relatively little capital, which in turn can empower people in less privileged economic circumstances.
After 4 years of working on the design—both with the hardware and the growing technique, which included a trial run with ten families and months of water quality testing—Gaia is ready to raise funds so that they can start manufacturing their units for sale. Until recently, they’ve kept a low profile in order to shield their product from competitors’ prying eyes. But now, Gaia is ready to take their system to market.
The startup world is rarely smooth sailing, but its waters are made more treacherous by what lurks beneath the surface. Reaching out from the underworld, criminal enterprises are now looking at cash-hungry startups to launder their dirty money. Hasse recounted being contacted by an investor (he would only reveal that they were from “a small European country”) who offered to fill his round, no questions asked. After Hasse flew out to meet him, the investor made no pretence: he needed to clean his money. Hasse politely declined and left, now more aware of some of the risks of fundraising that you don’t often hear about.
Through Impact Hub Stockholm, Hasse was introduced to Ruth Brännvall, CEO of Impact Invest Scandinavia, who has come on board as a close advisor. Now, Gaia is seeking investors with experience, broad networks, and an understanding for the business (and clean money!). The team also feels that they and their investors need to have chemistry, because, as Hasse describes, the investor-investee relationship is “like a marriage” that needs to be able to survive through the tough moments. They are looking for a total of €1,500,000 with minimum investments of €50,000. Their full profile can be found on Scandinavian Investment Network.