"We need global investors to take notice and to back us": Exclusive Q&A with Pure Harvest Co-Founder Sky Kurtz

Abu Dhabi-based Pure Harvest Smart Farms, a tech-enabled agribusiness that is growing fruits and vegetables in the desert outside Abu Dhabi, has just raised $1.75M from the company’s existing investors, founders and senior management.

MAGNiTT sat down with Pure Harvest’s CEO and Co-Founder, Sky Kurtz, who shared some insights on the challenges he faced as a startup and his future expansion plans.

 

Q: Tell us briefly about Pure Harvest. How does it work? 

A: We design, build and operate high-tech, climate-controlled greenhouses to produce and market sustainably-grown, premium quality fresh fruits & vegetables -- anywhere.  We produce 10-20x greater output per m2 vs. incumbent low-tech greenhouses using 1/7th the water – while consuming CO2 and displacing largely air-freighted imports.

 

Q: Why did you decide to start this company? What is your vision for the world? 

We have lived the problem of no alternatives for healthy, sustainably-grown local fresh produce in challenging climates.  In the UAE you either get (a) lower quality, seasonal, unsustainably-grown fresh produce that is cheap, or (b) higher quality, always-available, but expensive as h*ll air-freighted imports.  Very little exists between these extremes…

We believed it was possible to leverage technology – specifically innovations in controlled-environment agriculture and climate management solutions – to tackle the single constraint limiting food production in region’s like ours – which is the climate (heat & humidity).  Our vision is to enable resource-efficient (sustainable), cost competitive, local production of European standard/ quality fresh produce ANYWHERE. 

Our proof-of-concept farm has achieved incredible results and we now believe that we’ve found the solution we sought and we’re now ready to share it with the world… but we need large amounts of capital to do so.

 

Q: What's something or someone that really helped you fundraising? 

Water = food = life.  What we represent has helped… the story.  People WANT to be part of the tech-enabled agribusiness movement that we have started in the region… an ambitious vision and MEANINGFUL, singular solution that enables (1) true & tangible food security (within our piece of the calorie pyramid…), (2) water conservation, (3) economic diversification and (4) sustainability – all with just one tool.  One single choice.  This has helped. 

We are meeting a very real and fundamental NEED – which is food in climates with fast-growing populations, unsustainable farming methods, an ever-growing import dependence (which is a national security concern), and food health & safety concerns (obesity, pesticide-residue risks, cold chain integrity, etc.).  Climate change is rendering more traditionally favorable climates unfavorable…

By 2050, the world will need 70% more food to feed its 9.5-10B+ population, but with declining freshwater resources and harsher, hotter climates.  This is a recipe for disaster… we believe we have a solution that can help with this great, humanity-scale challenge.

 

Q: Beyond scaling to KSA, what are your plans for expansion? 

We believe our solution is relevant to all extreme and tropical (i.e. humid) climates globally.  Near-term we hope to serve the GCC which has a dramatic import dependence + a strong desire for economic diversification, among other favorable attributes (e.g. lots of light helps!).  After, we hope to share our growing system with the world and we believe markets like SE Asia, Japan, Southwest USA, Australia, Northern Mexico, etc. are all potentially attractive.  As mentioned before, we’ve grown world-leading yields in one of the harshest climates on the planet… we can grow ANYWHERE.

 

Q: What are your scaling challenges? 

Capital intensity results in large amounts of money needed in a region with an innovating but still maturing VC market. We need global investors to take notice and to back us – like SoftBank backed Plenty with a USD $200MM financing after its proof-of-concept – to unlock the full potential (i.e. a world-scale food solution for extreme climates) that Pure Harvest Smart Farms can deliver.  We have a strong and experienced team, but we’ll need more great people/ talent – especially technical folks in agronomy, data science, design & engineering disciplines – in our next phase of expansion.

 

Q: What do you think are the most exciting developments in the agri-tech space right now?

Amazing things happening in automation solutions & robotics, artificial lighting R&D, and in AI applied to farming.  I’m also a Cofounder in Vence where we are using a wearable technology solution to “digitize” shepherding of cattle and sheep – making farms more profitable and increasing output per hectare of land (increasing stock rates) through digital rotational grazing. 

People have caught on that the food security challenge of 2050 is one of the greatest problems facing humanity and that there will need to be solutions – both production/ supply-side (like ours) and consumption/ demand-side (waste curtailment solutions, plant-based meats, etc.) creating HUGE opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors in the space.

 

Q: What advice would you give yourself 5 years ago?

A: Leave room for the unexpected.  Both good and bad.  Time management is one of the greatest challenges of any endeavor, but uniquely challenging for entrepreneurship.  Assume things will take 40% longer than you think and/ or go 40% worse (or better) than expected (note: you can grow yourself into bankruptcy too!) … then plan time & resource for that altered, unexpected +/- 40% state of the world.  It will save your health and improve your happiness + those around you.