SMARTKAS: the agritech innovator setting its sights on ending world hunger
I amsterdam spoke to David Meszaros, CEO of SMARTKAS, about agricultural innovation and the future of food.
“Our company uses innovative solutions to end world hunger, which is a bit of a bold claim, we know,” says CEO and founder of SMARTKAS, David Meszaros. “Essentially, we empower – supercharge, if you want to call it that – our farms to increase yield in a completely green, renewable, sustainable way.” The innovative solutions in question are technologically advanced and put forward an inspiring new way of growing food.
Robots with green thumbs
Data lies at the heart of the SMARTKAS concept, with AI technology pinpointing exactly what plants need to thrive, and robotics enhancing crop cycles so that food can be produced 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and, importantly, at the same price point. It’s a game changer for the food industry.
In designing, building, owning and operating smart farms, from their primary location near Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, SMARTKAS has found a niche between the Netherlands’ thriving agricultural sector and Amsterdam’s tech and innovation hub. SMARTKAS and its “hermetically closed” systems, which ensure no bacteria, birds, pests or adverse weather conditions come in contact with the plants, do things differently. “We don’t depend on the outside climate, whether it’s raining or there’s a frost, too much sun, not enough sun, the weather is too cold, too hot, humidity is too high, too low. We essentially control all of this,” says Meszaros.
Shaking up the agricultural sector
Meszaros explains that the food market, worth €11 trillion globally, hasn’t kept up with other sectors in terms of incorporating advanced technologies. There are also pressing concerns relating to pesticide use and the continuous erosion of soil.
Then there’s the challenge of feeding the world’s increasing population, which has more than doubled since the 1960s. At the same time, food security is affected by increasing economic inequality. “Two billion of the population are overweight or obese, yet 850 million are starving,” he says. “All of these shocking and horrifying facts essentially motivated me to create a system – not only in the technical sense, but also in the practical and business-model sense – that can feed the world. So, our main motivation is to replace import/export completely and build farms all over the world, in 200 plus countries, to feed people locally.”
A welcoming home for innovation
Amsterdam provided the perfect launchpad for SMARTKAS, offering a sense of collaboration that brings ideas to fruition. “I always like to say that SMARTKAS is a technology company that focuses on the food industry, and not a food company that uses technology. There’s a huge difference between the two. And for those reasons, Amsterdam is a welcoming and buzzing hive of activity, especially when it comes to innovation,” Meszaros says. He also mentions the highly skilled talent pool, and the availability of developers, programmers, robotics experts and others who played a role in the success of SMARTKAS.
Others in the agrifood industry can take advantage of what SMARTKAS has learned along the way. Meszaros’ advice for other innovators is twofold: “You don’t necessarily have to innovate and R&D everything yourself – it’s totally OK to buy a readymade product off the shelf,” is the first, and the second, to network and share knowledge. “Don’t look at all the other actors in the food scene and the agri scene strictly as competitors, because there’s so much we can learn from each other. And there are so many opportunities for working together, banding together into a group or a consortium.”
Looking to the future
Plans are in motion for SMARTKAS to build a second Dutch farm in Rotterdam. It’s a large-scale project and will be bigger than the existing farms in Amsterdam and London combined. Focusing on soft fruits such as strawberries, it’s set to become the world’s largest indoor soft-fruit farm. Simultaneously, SMARTKAS is embarking on a large greenhouse project in Hungary, which will be powered geothermally.
The company shows no sign of backing down from its bold ambitions. SMARTKAS aims to be present in every single country in the world, noting that each location requires a different approach. Meszaros says they’d like to become a dominating power in food tech in the realm of AI, robotics and data sciences. And in a socially conscious move, they’d like to switch to a different business model in which they build community farms, and after the initial return-on-investment period make them completely free. “My goal is to make access to food and water a basic human right.”