It was while pursuing an elective course with existing entrepreneurs, when Maarten had the chance to develop a business plan; a plan that went on to change his life forever.
“At that time, I had limited knowledge about plant science, but the idea of indoor vertical farming was already on my mind and intrigued me a lot,” he recalls.
With time, Maarten got acquainted with the concept of plant science. He used to spend his time validating various hypotheses with the group of entrepreneurs, whom he mentions to be “a tough crowd.”
While many opposed Maarten’s idea, one surprisingly showed interest and joined hands. It was Frederic Bulcaen, a serial entrepreneur and managing director of Typhoon, a Belgian cleantech company. Together with him, Maarten adapted the model which they had envisioned and the idea of Urban Crop Solutions came into existence.
Today, Maarten Vandecruys, the CEO and Co-founder of Urban Crop Solutions, has led his company towards success to make a mark in the emerging urban farming industry.
The Birth of an Idea
During his educational tenure, Maarten has enjoyed a broad economic background. He started off with a degree in marketing and followed it up with a degree in business administration. Maarten later on pursued General Management from the Vlerick Business School. Speaking about his shift into plant science, Maarten asserts “It seemed important to me to have a broad background, so after my studies I continued educating myself in plant biology and machine building.”
Ever since he was a kid, Maarten was always on the lookout for innovative solutions for all day problems, which could decrease his dependency on others. Later, Maarten switched gears into creating solutions that only boast an economical value, but also holds the capability to impact the society and the environment. This led to the eventual formation of Urban Crop Solutions.
Tackling Globular Challenges
Urban Crop Solutions is a total solutions provider in the indoor vertical farming industry, with one important goal to its name: tackling the challenges our planet is facing by optimizing supply chains around the globe.
Led by Maarten and Frederic, the company designs, builds and engineers turnkey solutions to allow its customers to grow their crops indoors, independent of the outdoor climate and seasons. On top of this, the in-house team of plant scientists at Urban Crop Solutions investigates the most optimal parameters for a plant to grow, called plant recipes. “This enables us to allow everyone to become a farmer by a mere touch of a button.”
As a total solution provider, the relationship of the company with its customers doesn’t end after it has sold the system, rather it keeps on supporting them with maintenance, spare parts, distribution of consumables, and biological consultancy.
Realizing a Dream and Achieving it
The initial period of the company saw it develop a vision of being a fully automated plant growing solution provider across the globe. But in order to develop this successfully, Urban Crop Solutions needed a lot of know-how on both a plant-biological level and an engineering level.
“Luckily, a lot of know-how on both items exists in Belgium. We have a lot of agricultural research institutions, world-leading universities and international renowned automation experts. So we started asking questions to all of these parties, but always received the same answer: too ambitious, not realistic, etc,” Maarten recalls.
Soon the company met an experience prototype engineer in the food sector. He was in love with the project and his profile was the one which the company needed at that time. Maarten and his team spent weeks explaining him the plant biological level aspects a machine needed to be able to deal with and what the expectations were. Then we went back to those parties and we were able to convince at least some to start working with us. Maarten continues saying “I have to admit, sometimes everything you present can be great and well thought off, but it also matters who presents it and how it is perceived by the other party. If that one person wasn’t honest to us, it would have taken us probably way longer to realize we had perception against us to have the ability to realize our ambition.”
By keeping on asking questions, Urban Crop Solutions has been able to realize and keep alive its initial dream of being an international company.
Start Small and Think Big
Maarten advices emerging entrepreneurs and leaders, “Try to find a niche market with global relevance so it has the opportunity to scale quickly. And make sure it is relevant by looking further than the economic impact of your idea, but also the impact on society and environment if you want to build a real brand name.”
As the CEO of the burgeoning company, Maarten has been able to build an environment which promotes creativity and generates new ideas. He firmly believes that the biggest danger for a company is stagnation in idea and creativity, and to tackle the same he has built a culture that consistently strives to bring-forward innovation.