Startup Tales | How LocalGreen is revolutionizing agriculture
The startup produces sustainable vegetables with vertical farming, an innovative cultivation method based on patented proprietary technologies that eliminates waste of water and soil
Switching from seed to ready-to-eat bagged salad with crops available 365 days a year without using pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals, drastically reducing water and soil consumption to make agriculture sustainable thanks to indoor crops that recreate the ideal conditions for plant growth and integrate the entire supply chain.
This is vertical farming: a method of cultivation based on various innovative technologies which takes place inside buildings located in or near urban centres, replacing sunlight with that of LED lamps. Solution also brought to Italy by LocalGreen, a startup co-founded in Milan in 2019 by Paolo Forattini (CFO) and Lorenzo Beccari (CTO), with Marco Maggioni - an agronomist who worked for In-Farm, a leading company in Europe in the sector - completing the team shortly thereafter as R&D manager.
How LocalGreen's innovative vertical farming works
Thanks to the exclusive use of "in house" and patented technologies, LocalGreen has created a solution that reduces the costs of 'vertical' production plants by 40%.
“Vertical farming makes it possible to recreate the perfect plant growth parameters so that all inputs are optimal within an artfully reconstructed environment to promote plant growth. The consequence is to have much healthier and more productive plants”, explains Forattini. The LocalGreen production plant "is completely different from that of the 'classic' vertical farm in that we do not use horizontal shelving but long and high vertical green walls for cultivation, with a patented irrigation system based exclusively on aeroponics, which 'consumes' only the water absorbed by the plants”.
Solution that allows you to save 95% of water compared to traditional agriculture thanks to recycling and remineralization, at the same time avoiding that the plants are contaminated by heavy metals and 'external' parasites.
Furthermore, with aeroponics the roots remain suspended in the air most of the time absorbing oxygen better, essential for plant health and to increase productivity. In fact, thanks to the technologies independently developed for vertical farming, the startup can complete 25 harvests a year compared to the usual 3 made in the open field.
The first steps of LocalGreen
“I graduated in Economics from Cattolica, Lorenzo in Engineering from the Polytechnic. Inquiring about what was happening at a technological level in the world of agriculture, we saw how vertical farming was being born and developed in the USA: a solution that allows for an exponential increase in production in confined spaces, capable of solving problems that would magnified”, explains Paolo Forattini.
Initially incubated by Impact Hub Milano, LocalGreen immediately came into contact with Coop and then moved near the Lombard capital by an investor who made laboratories and growth chambers available to the startup to start cultivation.
“From there – explains Forattini – we have developed a commercial network mainly with large-scale retail players. Our entry into the market was gradual, combining research and testing thanks to the collaboration with Coop and Coop Lombardia". Development went through a raising of capital: almost three million euros between investment rounds, bank debt and equity instruments. Resources used to build a larger production plant in Cervesina (Pavia) in 2022, which at the same time became the headquarters of the startup.
LocalGreen between present and future
Since the foundation LocalGreen has grown steadily employing 15 people compared to the initial 4 and, thanks to 1,500 m2 of vertical cultivation in the Cervesina plant, produces 80,000 bags of nickel-free salad per week in 4 varieties (lettuce and green leaf salad mix ) tasty and always fresh.
Having started large-scale production, LocalGreen salads have attracted various players in large-scale retail trade, from Coop (Liguria, Piedmont and Lombardy) to Unes via 'Iper la grande I', Gulliver and most recently CRAI.
Looking to the future, one of the objectives “is to work well in limited areas, focusing on Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto to scale up the Italian market - clarifies Forattini -. Our prices are higher than those of the fruit and vegetable sector and close to those of organic products, but in the future we aim to market bagged salads and other products at the same price as traditional competitors".
“A great advantage of LocalGreen - continues Forattini - is logistics: lettuce has large volumes with a relatively low product value per volume. In this respect we are very competitive, also because the impact of logistics in the sector is, to say the least, significant".
Furthermore, the startup is "looking with interest at rocket, valerian and, in general, at all bagged vegetables, while red fruits and tomatoes are medium-term projects" of a young reality considering the average age of the team and the founders. but mature in the vision of the business. Business that aims to expand to include the HoReCa channel (Hotels, Restaurants and Catering), with a series of tests aimed at understanding how best to enter the market segment.
The support of Intesa Sanpaolo and Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center: from Up2Stars to ELITE Lounge
Important for the growth of LocalGreen was the participation in 2022 in Up2Stars - an enhancement program born from the collaboration between Intesa Sanpaolo and Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center with the support of the Gellify innovation platform - in the Bioeconomia/agritech field.
The reference branch of the startup - already a customer of the Group - suggested to the founders that they apply to participate in the process which, recalls the CFO of LocalGreen, "has been highly personalized and calibrated to our needs, giving us the opportunity to grow as a company by working on the more 'fragile' aspects for which we needed additional support in an undoubtedly positive experience”.
Experience concluded with the entry of LocalGreen into Intesa Sanpaolo ELITE Lounge, in collaboration with ELITE, the Euronext ecosystem that helps small and medium-sized enterprises to grow and access the private and public capital markets which has the ultimate goal to identify the most promising Italian entrepreneurial realities to prepare them to face the challenges of growth through a set of services to support the business.
A path that "has brought benefits both in terms of training and reputation, as it gives visibility and credibility to the company in the eyes of the market with support that goes beyond the purely economic aspects and the duration of the programs - explains Forattini -. For example, Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center has created opportunities to start new collaborations, such as on the occasion of an event in Turin that allowed us to get in touch with PAM".
Opportunities that are not destined to run out, with LocalGreen in full "climbing" and the Intesa Sanpaolo Group to support it given the high innovative potential of sustainable technology developed entirely "in house" by the young Lombard company, in a sector that must necessarily innovate to change and become the "engine" of the ecological transition.