Why you know the company: Babylon Micro-Farms makes automated, hydroponic systems for growing herbs, fruits, vegetables and salad greens in homes or restaurants.
The company was co-founded in 2017 by University of Virginia students Alexander Olesen and Graham Smith after an undergraduate student project to develop low-cost micro-farms for refugee communities.
What’s new: The startup company Babylon Micro-Farms finished 2019 by raising $2.3 million, with plans to expand installations of its indoor, hydroponic farming systems in 2020.
“We have some ambitious plans, and the interest is phenomenal,” said Marc Oosterhuis, the company’s chief operating officer. “We are getting inquiries from all over the place.”
The company is now installing small-scale farming systems at colleges, retirement communities and restaurants, such as the system now installed at Red Salt Chophouse & Sushi restaurant in western Henrico County. The indoor systems grow leafy greens, micro-greens, herbs and edible flowers.
“Where our systems are unique is the remote management,” Oosterhuis said.
Only the harvesting has to be done by whoever has a system on site, while the light, water and nutrients are controlled remotely by Babylon Micro-Farms.
“Because of the remote management, that makes it possible for us to have eventually hundreds and hopefully thousands of units out there that we manage from a central location,” he said.
The company raised most of the $2.3 million from investors, but the capital raise also included a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct research on its systems, along with a $50,000 grant from Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology.
The company, which has 14 employees, will use the money for further product development as well as marketing and sales, said Oosterhuis, a Richmond resident who joined Babylon Micro-Farms as chief operating officer in 2019.
He retired after more than 25 years with adhesives maker Drytac, including as president of its Richmond operations. After retiring, Oosterhuis served as a mentor at Startup Virginia, a business incubator in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom where Babylon Micro-Farms is a member. Oosterhuis became an investor in the startup, then a consultant and now its COO.
The company has a pipeline of 50 micro-farm installations it is planning for 2020.
“Through March, we are focused on installs within a 200-mile radius of Charlottesville,” Oosterhuis said. “We are really trying to keep a measured growth, to make sure we can support it.”