Mattias Lepp, founder and CEO of Click & Grow, was raised in a house with a garden, surrounded by lush nature. Estonia, the birthplace of Click & Grow, is a rare country where many Estonians (or their relatives) have a plot of land, where they can strike their own soil and later reap the world’s most delicious fruit. This kind of fortune is ever decreasing in an increasingly urbanised world.
People in tune with nature feel that there is something missing when they are living in cities. Lepp feels the same. Moving to the city, he became increasingly aware of just how much limited contact with nature impacted his overall well-being. Plants make people happy and cities do not have enough of them.
It was about that time when he happened to read an article about NASA’s plan to start growing fresh lettuce on the Mars mission. Fascinated by the technology, he decided to build his own plant production device based on NASA’s drawings. It was a success. Plants started growing.
Lepp felt more and more that all of humanity needed the opportunity to grow plants not only on Mars, but on Earth as well. In a block of flats or even in the desert. He wanted to create a device that would enable anyone to grow plants, reconnecting people with nature, in turn improving their physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
Strong focus on aesthetics and functionality
Today, approximately a decade later, you can purchase a smart garden or a farm the size of your living room for your home anywhere in the world. Click & Grow has grown and picked up a few competitors. Lepp says that the largest difference between Click & Grow and their current biggest competitors is that his company has strong international exposure, a global supply chain and steady profitability – that his competitors still lack.
“Creating a plastic garden with a lamp is simple, but developing plant technology that will successfully start growing plants in every home takes years,” says Lepp. Click & Grow’s minimalist appearance harbours several years of scientific work. They cooperated with the University of Tartu to develop soil capsule technology in order to guarantee an extremely high probability of success in growing each plant. This does not factor in the person (who has a smart garden) and their knowledge of plant production, or climate conditions. Those same capsules can be used in small smart gardens or in large farms with thousands of plants.
These are changing times in the smart garden market. Click & Grow has been approached by a number of consumer electronics manufacturers who can build equipment but have struggled to create a growth substrate. Several of the company’s competitors have been purchased by large companies such as Amazon and Bosch. “Recently, at the world’s largest technology fair the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), LG showcased a smart garden that is very similar to our patented design and thus we launched a patent infringement dispute against them,” says Lepp. Nevertheless, Lepp is reassured by the fact that reputable and large companies have entered the smart garden field; Click & Grow has been on the right path and the demand for indoor plant production devices is growing.
A lot has transpired at Click & Grow during its development. The initial smart garden was set up so that if the water level was too low, the LED lights would send out an SOS signal. The neighbours of that smart garden owner saw the light signal from the window and called the rescue board to help those thirsty plants. The smart garden obviously no longer has that setting. Recalling the story, Lepp says that henceforth they preferred a minimalist approach to design and began to reject all irrelevant and complex gadgets in the initial stages.
Click & Grow’s smart garden has received so many accolades that Lepp cannot count all of them or even remember which TOP lists they have appeared in. Lepp considers his biggest achievement managing to get people to change their behaviour. Notably, Click & Grow was ranked 17th in the 2021 Foodtech 500 list of the world’s biggest vertical farms, food waste apps and unicorn companies. Foodtech 500 is inspired by the Fortune 500; it brings together the world’s most important and relevant food industry talent in the fields of entrepreneurship, technology and sustainability.
Additionally, Click & Grow has touched and inspired the souls of several renowned people. In May 2021, rising R&B star Tayla Parx wrote in American fashion and lifestyle magazine Vogue that when she is not writing Grammy-worthy new tracks for her new album, she spends her time in her most important room. A room filled with Click & Grow smart gardens.
When COVID-19 forced people into their homes a few years back, demand for Click & Grow products soared. People increasingly missed that nature feeling, which led to a rise in people interested in gardening and indoor plant production. There was also an increased focus on health, which further led people to Click & Grow. Fresh garden lettuce and herb plants are the pillars of good health and disease prevention. People can get the purest and most vitamin-rich fresh garden lettuce and herb plants by growing them at home. While fresh food security was a minor concern in Estonia, it was a major concern in many other places in the world, including many US states, prompting people to look for solutions to guarantee their own food supplies. Click & Grow had to overcome challenges in supply chains – the same ones that plagued other global companies.
Consequently, the company set up a unique production line for plant capsules outside Tallinn, which manufactures one new plant capsule every second. In conclusion, the first year of COVID-19 more than doubled turnover and they managed to grow profitability. Click & Grow customers cultivated 2.5 million plant capsules last year.
A bright future ahead
Click & Grow is actively raising investment through a new round of funding. With that funding, the coming years will see expansion into major Asian markets such as Japan and South Korea. There are also plans to further develop the soil growth substrate as well as launch new equipment specifically focused on individual plant cultivation needs. One such device will be brought to market this summer, a device that will make it easier to grow large quantities of salad plants for everyday consumption.
Lepp says that Estonia is a fantastic place to establish a company, develop technology and attract initial investors. Estonia has a well-established startup network; access to competence and assistance via this network is simple and fast. Cooperation with universities is good and there is growing recognition that entrepreneurship makes a substantial contribution to the development of science, not vice versa. Another advantage Estonia certainly has, is the lack of bureaucracy.
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