In this new series, ‘Work for Impact meets’, we’re taking you behind the scenes of meaningful companies. The first interview is with Botany Labs, a start-up based in Barcelona, that has created a new device, Koru a smart plant pot and air purifier.
Without further ado, we’d like to introduce you to Friedrich Eickhoff, one of the three co-founders of Botany Labs.
What is Koru?
We have developed Koru about 15 months ago, and now we are ready to launch it after a long journey, designing, re-designing, and prototyping. Koru is our attempt to help people to nurture plants and live a healthier life. The name ‘Koru’ comes from the Maori culture and symbolizes new life, growth, health, and tranquility. It’s a smart plant pot and air purifier, and we’ve built it out of a need. My two co-founders and I, we used to travel a lot and we have a lot of plants. Whenever we came back all the plants died, either because a friend of our ours took care of it and killed it because he or she overwatered it because of a lack of green thumb, or they were dried up because no one was taking care of them because we had no one to do that.
One of our co-founders met his electrical engineer, and we asked him to build a very basic system that monitors all the metrics important for plants, light temperature, humidity, soil moist and that we can build an automated system to nurture and take care of plants.
We shared the idea with several people and many said that ‘Oh, we have the same problem!’
We actually figured out that so many people love plants, and would love to have plants, but don’t know how to take care of them. So this brought us to do more about it and actually start building a very sophisticated prototype. We have a botanical, cloud-based database and system that is connected to the WiFi, that literally monitors the health of the plant and is nurturing it, while we are working, traveling, doing yoga, etc.
The Evolution of Koru
While we were designing this in 2020 in February-March, the lockdown hit us in Spain, and we started realizing how important it is to actually breathe healthy fresh air because we couldn’t leave the home anymore. We discovered a NASA research from 1989 about plants and how plants are actually purifying the air and removing all the hazardous VOCs, bacterias, and viruses through microbes on their roots.
Hence we started introducing the same principle to our product and started designing natural air purifier, based on this NASA research. We figured out that we spent it normally 90% at home, but throughout the lockdown, even more, and we’re exposed to harmful air.
This is why we started implementing this air purifier into the solution. But we realized that this needed an upgrade. And actually, we cannot just rely on the plant to do the air purification because it takes too much time. We needed to design a sophisticated air purifier. We partnered with the University of Kassel and designed a purifier to remove VOCs bacteria and viruses like the plants do, in order to help everybody live a healthier life.
What issues are you trying to solve with Koru?
The issues that we are trying to solve and the mission that we have is basically we want to inspire people to grow plants, to be confident about it, and to improve people’s health.
This is related to the sustainability 2030 goals. We want to increase the number of plants that people have at home and at the office, because this is solving the problem of concentration and mental health issues, especially now that we look at screens 24/7. Plants, bring nature to your home and closer to the people and help you to relax. There are plenty of researches that have been done on this.
Another important aspect is air pollution. So it’s renowned that the air we breathe is polluted, but there’s not so much focus on indoor air pollution. With Koru, we tried to tackle two things at once: we tried to reduce indoor air pollution through our filter system, but we also we’re planning to plant trees and want to foster re-forestation with partners, for every product sold.
In the future, we’d like to invest part of our profits into saving water, planting trees, and bringing work for good, into the value chain. This is what drives us.
How does the future look like for Botany Labs?
On our website we have two bold statements: we want to grow Greens on Mars and we want also to go into vertical farming, in order to have richer greens to eat (herbs and edibles). We’d like to reduce water waste in the production process. We mostly live in cities, so having very rich food, locally sourced, it’s very important. This way it doesn’t have to be on a plane for days and weeks or on a ship for days and weeks, coming from other places, other continents. That is something that we want to avoid, and kind of tackle this in the future with vertical farming. Even though this is the long shot for us.
What are the next steps for Koru and Botany Labs?
Right now, we are swamped in work, preparing our Kickstarter launch, happening in April. We are extremely excited to get Koru finally on the market and get it into homes and offices to help many people to have as many plants as possible and breathe healthy air.
Right after that, we want to scale up the team and start preparing for the future. We’d like to hire new people, to collaborate with freelancers, and start working on various evolutions of Koru. Koru will change over time. We will have different versions of it and also already starting the engineering, research and development for vertical farming. It is a big topic for us starting by the end of 2021. This is going to be a big topic in 2022 for us as a business.
What are the key roles and traits that companies like Botany Labs are looking for?
There are several things that are important. First, having the same or similar entrepreneurial mindset can be very good and helpful, it makes it easy to understand the challenges you’re facing. Second, having a mix of people who are very structured, organized, experienced in what they’re doing, to bring also some linearity.
What helped us and will be part of our future journey is having many collaborations with various people, businesses, and institutions. Working with universities, for instance, it’s extremely important for us. Having a two-way conversation, feedback and learning with people who are on the same page as we are.
We want to drive change, we’re inspired by the model of the ‘Unfuck Economy’, doing things a little bit different than everybody else does.
This means not going by the textbook, but just structuring the business and the people we are collaborating with, in the way we believe it’s right.
We want to focus on a very human-centered culture. We’d like to put people before process, rather than the other way, which is very common. We want to collaborate with people and hire people who have the same values: people who want to be seen as an individual, who want to be empowered, respected, valued and trusted. People that will be comfortable in knowing that they’re going to do their work correctly and we don’t have to micromanage. I’m not a big fan of management.
I think leadership is the key driver for every successful business. We want to have a very human approach, where we empower everybody to be innovative and make decisions. Creators innovators, age doesn’t matter, gender doesn’t matter. It’s about the person rather than cv’s.
What would you recommend to startups like yours?
What helped us a lot at Botany Labs was having mentors. We had one on the engineering side and the other on the marketing side. Then we had a third person, more on the psychological side. Somebody who understands psychology very well and knew how to help us and our collaborators to be grounded again. There’s always something going on, stress levels, we’re all human at the end of the day.
I highly recommend that every person who wants to start a business to find a go-to mentor, that can be very helpful for various topics, business or non-business related. I’ve recently started a leadership journey with DSIL. I’ve learned that the more human communication, interactions are actually happening, the more trust we gain and the better we can work together. Sometimes taking off the business hat and taking on the very human hat is extremely important to get to know each other and actually work better together. In the end, we are all humans, and we need to drive change from the inside to the outside. So this is what we are looking for. This is what we mean by like-minded people.
We’d like to thank Friedrich for his time and we’re wishing him best of luck for the launch of Koru and the next projects at Botany Labs. You can also watch and listen to the interview on our You Tube channel.
They are one of the many meaningful companies and startups that are leveraging Work for Impact to scale their activities. If you’d like to know more, sign up for free or book a meeting to know more about how you can scale your team.