Startup of the month: Apolonia Agrotech

In the long run they want robots to grow our food. Until then Martin Apolonia Årdal and the rest of Apolonia Agrotech wants to grow food in water instead of soil.

By Jenny Westrum-Rein

It all started five years ago. Martin Apolonia Årdal visited USA, and discovered a farm that was growing plants without the use of soil. Instead they used nutritional water. “I wanted to do the same in Norway”, Årdal says. He began studying food technology and started to build a few prototypes and facilities.

“I thought about designing a hydroponic facility for a while, but the team really started when I began studying at the NTNU School of Entrepreneurship”, Årdal tells us. He met Erik O’Donnell, Mats Jønland and Trym Nordgaard. Together they formed Apolonia Agrotech.

“Martin has done this for a while now. This is very new to the rest of us, but we’re starting to get into it”, says Jønland.

Martin Apolonia Årdal og Mats Jønland from Apolonia. Photo: Jenny Westrum-Rein

A new way to grow food

What makes growing plants in water instead of soil possible, is a technology called hydroponics. “It is a new way to grow food. We have grown food the same way since we discovered how to do it. You put a seed in the soil and you water it and hope that it will grow”, says Jønland. “It’s not a refined way to do it. You lose a lot of control and a lot of resources”.

With hydroponics, you get full control without losing anything. The water can be used over and over again, and you save resources. “Traditionally, we’ve been limited to cultivate only on a horizontal level. With this technology you can cultivate vertically. You can use the entire volume of a room”, Årdal tells us. Jønland confirms. “That’s the breakthrough. You don’t have to depend on a field anymore, you can just use a bomb shelter or something”, he says.

The Scandinavian market

“Is there a market for this in Norway?

“Yes, we think so”, Årdal says.

“It could be. We’ve looked at greenhouses. That’s already an established market, but the market we think is the most fun is so called urban farming”, Jønland adds. “Urban farming exists in Norway, but it is about six or seven madmen who are doing it. Right now, it’s as good as non-existing”.

The goal is to make urban farming more available for the average person. Today, the equipment needed is pretty complicated, and not suitable for Scandinavian conditions. “The existing solutions are hard to manage and install. You need a lot of expertise to use them. We want to make a system easy enough for anyone to install and use”, Årdal tells us.

The prototype. Photo: Apolonia Agrotech

Prototype. Photo: Apolonia Agrotech

Urban farming is already big in China and USA. The existing solutions works well in a city with millions of residents, but not in a smaller scale. Scandinavian cities are much smaller, and the cold and changing climate makes urban farming a challenge.

“If we can make a solution that works in Scandinavian conditions, we can be a part of starting that market. A lot is already in favour of this working in Norway”, Jønland says.

A long term plan

“Can we talk about the robot?”, Årdal whispers to Jønland.

Jønland laughs.

“We can talk a bit about the robot”, he answers. “Martin is working on a robot, and he’s very passionate about it”. In the long run, robots will do a lot of the tasks that humans do today. Årdal tells us that soon it will be possible to use any indoor area to make an all automatic vegetable factory.

“That’s our vision. We still believe in that, but it is too big to do right now”, Jøndal says. “It’s a long term plan, but that is the final idea”.