Rick Genga, President & CEO & Joseph Anter, VP OF Business Development
Touted as the “future of agriculture,” indoor farming will play a key role in meeting the growing need for crops without relying on favorable weather, skilled labor, high water usage or high soil fertility. Today’s high-tech indoor farms are capable of producing up to 75 times more food per square foot than traditional farms. From hydroponics to aquaponics, these indoor farming methods employ innovative technologies such as “nutrient solution” that provides essential supplements for plant growth or artificial lighting that mimics the sun.
However, when it comes to lighting, the potential for innovation was often stifled to a pursuit to simulate sunlight. Although the conventional high-pressure sodium lights can mimic characteristics of sunlight, they generate a lot of heat and take up too much energy. The consensus was that nothing could beat the good old-fashioned daylight farming. But, a team of engineers from East Greenwich, Rhode Island beg to differ.
Led by Rick Genga, President & CEO, the team at Growgenics has developed a horticultural lighting solution that can grow a plant with half the electricity required than that of a standard grow light. Growgenics’ LED-based grow lamps help create vegetation of comparable size—if not bigger—to that of outdoor farmed produce, while generating less heat and maximizing efficiency.
Shape Lighting — A Novel Step in Indoor Farming
“Five years ago, I happened to see an indoor grow room that employed hundreds of lights to provide an optimum setting for growing plants. I saw the lighting and thought about how this could be a great application for LEDs. Looking at how the plant was trying to reach the light, I imagined the possibility of wrapping LEDs around the canopy of a plant from multiple directions, to make it grow ‘wider,’ rather than ‘taller,’” states Rick Genga, President & CEO of Growgenics. While he didn’t know much about how plants grew or the photosynthesis part, as a trained engineer who could visualize, associate and build solutions to fit the purpose, Genga was determined to make his concept a reality. With a degree in mechanical engineering and applied mechanics, and 20 years of experience in honing it, Genga reviewed every research paper he could find— from universities across the world and even NASA’s research papers on growing food in space. He soon developed a modular concept that eventually became Growgenics’ patent-pending “Shape Lighting” technology.
"We give growers the ability to tweak the light ratio for each strain or species of plants, optimize that plant growth, and then save that recipe and recall it on a later date when they are growing that crop again"
Growgenics’ Shape Lighting solution for indoor agriculture—where lights are clipped together in segments with the ability to pivot 360 degrees—is a concept that’s light-years ahead of the competition. The main light, which is trapezoidal-shaped, has two wings on either side that points down. While conventional flat lights waste about 20 percent of the light, with Shape Lighting, farmers can drive close to 100 percent of the photonic energy into the plant.
“High-pressure sodium lights are typically designed to light factories, not to grow plants,” says Genga. It generates a lot of heat, requiring the plants to be kept at a safe distance to avoid burning. This doesn’t happen with LEDs.
In parallel to that, the orientation of the Growgenics’ lights helps plants to grow outward and spread out horizontally, rather than growing vertical toward the light. This is a more favorable condition for gaining better yields.
Going Beyond Light Orientation
Looking further into different research papers and aggregating the data, Genga noted that there were close to 10 key color frequencies of light—one U.V. strain, four blue frequencies, four red, and one far-red. The optimum combination of these lights is a key driver for photosynthesis in any plant species. From various parts of the world, Genga sourced high-powered LEDs that could produce these ten frequencies and started testing them.
Our goal is to be the number one horticultural light provider worldwide
The breakthrough came after he met the advisory board member and botany expert, Dr. Brian Maynard from the University of Rhode Island, who oversaw Genga’s research over the last five years. Honing the Growgenics Shape Lighting technology with multiple frequency LEDs, Genga created the very first prototypes. The results were astonishing. Within ten days, and with half the electricity consumption compared to regular lights, Growgenics lights helped plants to grow 30 to 40 percent larger in size. This led to more refinements in the solution, including power level adjustments and grouping the ten identified frequencies into sets of eight. By combining these frequencies and controlling the power levels of each color frequency from 0-100 percent, one could induce optimal growth in a variety of different species of plants. For instance, a ratio of 75 percent blue, 90 percent red, 25 percent of a U.V., and 30 percent white light would ensure a strawberry plant’s growth at its absolute best. As such, growers can tag these light ratios as a recipe for one particular strain of plant to ensure its optimum growth. Interestingly, this is a very similar approach to the one adopted by scientists at NASA.
Flexible Solutions for Variable Applications
The Growgenics Shape Lighting solution is a treasure trove of possibilities when it comes to indoor farming. Color ratios can be customized to suit different growth stages of any plant. For example, if a grower needs to switch to, say lettuce or kale, after completing one cycle of another plant, they need not get new lighting. With their “set-it, and forget-it” option, Growgenics brings peace of mind to growers, enabling them to schedule the grow times and light types, intensity, frequency, and much more.
With Growgenics lighting solution complete with its smartphone app, the company embraces the idea of using the best that technology can offer to support various needs of the agriculture sector. “Other than the aftermentioned benefits, we give growers the ability to tweak the light ratio for each strain or species of plants, optimize that plant growth, and then save that recipe and recall it on a later date when they are growing that crop again,” says Genga. One ideal application for this would be growing cannabis, which is now the fastest-growing cash crop in the market.
For cannabis, in the vegetative mode, the plant has to be subjected to lighting that promotes that mode for 18 hours a day, and switched off for 6 hours, making the plant “assume” that it is summer.
Robert Flynn, COO
Growgenics’ lights come with a smartphone app, with a built-in timer that can coordinate these states of seasonal variance based on the ratios set for six weeks. This enables the lighting to adhere to different ratios and timings, from vegetative to flowering state. Growgenics’ solution can run it for an entire growth cycle as well, based on cycling day and night. The cycling can effect THC content in the cannabis plant with light ratios for better results. To promote flowering, it is 12 hours lights on period to 12 hours lights off, simulating the season to make the plant start flowering. The app features all these functionalities a grower needs to customize the lighting based on color ratios, intensity, time cycles and even growth stage based cycling to ensure that the right light is used for vegetative and flowering stages.
Lighting Up the Future with Growgenics
With the most advanced LED grow lights in the industry, Genga has big plans for the future of Growgenics. “Our goal is to be the number one horticultural light provider worldwide,” he says.
From a finance and operations perspective, Genga reached out to the successful business entrepreneur Bob Flynn, a professional friend of Genga for fifteen years. Mr. Flynn’s manufacturing operations expertise, finance knowledge, attention to detail, work ethic, and technology licensing expertise are powerful contributors to the Growgenics company and its projected success. From a sales and marketing perspective, Genga and Flynn were looking for a tenacious and well-seasoned sales and marketing executive capable of driving sales by attacking the exploding markets of cannabis and vertical food farming. After multiple meetings with Joe Anter, Genga and Flynn selected him as Growgenics’ new VP of Business Development due to his ability to convey the Growgenics value proposition while also developing powerful one-on-one relationships with key decision makers in the horticultural lighting specification and purchasing arenas.
Growgenics primary focus will be on developing leading market and brand positions in the North American commercial grow markets. The company is focused on encompassing four key markets; indoor cannabis, indoor vertical farming for agriculture, greenhouse supplemental lighting and university research.
Over the last five years, between the money invested and the money raised, Growgenics had secured about $1.25 million to get their technology to the production level. Growgenics is currently filing the paperwork with the FCC to make a regulation D offering to accredited investors, to raise another $3 million for accelerating growth and generating additional inventory. The company is optimistic about the window of growth for its robust technology in many areas, including the cannabis industry.
More recently, the cannabis mogul, Rhett Jordan, has joined Growgenics as their new Global Business Development Strategist. Jordan will also guide the executive leadership team as a newly appointed member of the Board of Advisors. As the founder of Native Roots—recognized as the leading cannabis dispensary brand, with state-of-the-art commercial cultivation and processing facilities—Jordan is giving further confirmation that Growgenics is emerging as the de facto indoor horticultural lighting industry leader. The potential collaboration between the two spells great news for Growgenics, which is on the verge of setting off a chain reaction, one that will soon change the face of indoor agriculture forever.