Hexagro was founded with the objective of developing an innovative solution to increase healthy food accessibility in urban areas. Their team takes inspiration from nature for everything from their products to their business model.
Location: Milan, Italy
Product / Service Offering: Urban Farming
Co-founder Interviewed: Felipe Hernandez
Other Key Management Team Members: Arturo Montufar, Alessandro Grampa, Milica Jovanovic
This article is part of our Business Startup Spotlight series featuring entrepreneurs and their companies. We hope that these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.
Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you.
My name is Felipe Hernandez. I am 26 years old. I was born in Colombia, but I grew up in Costa Rica. My main field of experience is design. For 6 years, I’ve worked with a variety of companies from different sectors across Latin America and Europe. My goal is to continue gaining experience working on entrepreneurial projects in various fields, such as Hexagro Urban Farming, which is now a startup based in Milan, Italy.
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Product Design, in which I have had successful trajectory and subsequently received a scholarship to study a Master of Science in Design and Engineering at Politecnico di Milano. I’ve also been accepted into Alta Scoula Politecnica, a parallel extracurricular course of two years to develop multidisciplinary projects.
I am passionate about design, sustainability, and technology, which is why I like to work hard and learn new things. Driven to innovative solutions, I consider myself a team player, and I am confident that design is the best tool to unify creativity with technical knowledge. My objective and vision as a social entrepreneur are to develop ideas that can make life more affordable while being regenerative for the environment and society, which is a frugal approach towards innovation.
When did you establish your company and where did the idea originate?
We officially established the company on December 5, 2016. The idea originated from my Bachelor’s thesis project on Product Design with the objective of developing a solution to increase healthy food accessibility in urban areas.
The thesis explored strategies of some organisms to adapt to different environments through geometrical patterns that repeat in nature. The first design solution was created from this inspiration. After our participation in the first edition of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge in 2015, we also took inspiration in nature to help the development of our business model.
What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?
Our customers will access fresh and clean organic products. Hobbyists will easily learn-by-doing about indoor farming. Chefs passionate for preparing special dishes can access the products they need all-year-round.
You can have your own indoor garden. Indoor farming represents an alternative to relocating crops, bringing healthy food production closer to the consumer. Current stand-alone systems for the consumer market are expensive, hard to use, and do not involve the users in a community. By involving the consumers in the production process, they become “prosumers” and will have the unique chance to harvest what is best and closer to their taste.
What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?
A number of companies and start-ups are currently offering hydroponic solutions to the B2C market, especially in the EU and North America. However, none of them are offering customers a complete and integrated sustainable solution through hardware, software and services. No other competitor offers a product that targets the same needs listed below all-at-once:
- Yield scalability, customizability, modularity, flexibility and easiness of shipment
- All-included modular illumination, automation and interactive software platform
- Sharing economy online solutions, easiness of scalability from B2C to B2B
What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?
There have been all kinds of challenges so far. The biggest one in the beginning was the formation of a multidisciplinary team that believed in the project and shared the same vision. We have been very lucky to find the right people, so I think it was about seizing the opportunity of becoming part of something that will be great. One way or another, we have resolved other big issues such as lack of funds, lack of time, and limited resources. We have overcome every challenge because even if we fail, we never give up.
Are there resources you have utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful?
First, I would recommend founders put themselves in their user’s position. For example, design thinking is a very good tool for innovating products and services by focusing on the user. It shows how important iterating and experimenting are. Also, I would recommend entrepreneurs to take inspiration in nature through biomimicry. It can provide us with solutions that are efficient and sustainable.
What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?
We have tried to avoid funding until we are ready to go to production and have enough traction to use those funds. However, we have participated in several accelerators, competitions, and exhibitions to increase our audience and generate interest in our products. Mostly, we are focusing on having a broad vision for our startup as the market is exponentially working, and there are countless fields for innovation.
What questions have you had as an entrepreneur of a fledgling startup that you had a particularly hard time finding the answers to?
There are always technical, commercial, and economic related questions that we are not able to answer right away. However, we are a startup. We are innovating in the market to test and adapt our business model. If we could answer all questions easily, it would mean we are not asking the right questions.
What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?
Right now, we need to find equity-free funding and increase our traction to raise our value and proceed to a seed funding round. Also, during the last months we have been very busy; available time is little, but we hope this will change soon.
What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?
All the successful entrepreneurs I have met have told me that building a company is very hard; it will not be easy and is important to know we can fail. The most essential thing is to never give up and think BIG.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your company?
In my own entrepreneurial vision, our startup will change how we think about food production through collaborative farming. We are not just selling systems for growing food at home; we are diffusing culture, a healthier lifestyle, and the awareness of how people can become their own trustworthy producers.
Hexagro’s main competitive advantage is the use of innovation in products and services. We integrate innovation into the process from the beginning with vision for the future. We are a team full of desire to make this world a better place, and that is why we have founded Hexagro Urban Farming as a for-benefit company.
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