Engineer's spinoff company sets sights on feeding the world

Lighting system spinoff company tapping into vertical farming movement

Grecia Pacheco - 31 March 2016

(Edmonton) In the next 50 years, food producers worldwide will be facing challenges, and Michael Taschuk believes he has a possible solution to the food supply problem-engineered sunlight.

"Population worldwide will be 9 billion by 2050, and in order to feed that population, we'll need to increase food production by 70 per cent," said Taschuk, who earned his undergraduate degree in engineering physics at the U of A in 2000 and his PhD in 2007.

Compounding the challenges of feeding 9 billion people is the fact that worldwide, arable land is decreasing.

Taschuk has founded a U of A spinoff company, G2V, providing lighting systems for the growing movement toward indoor "vertical" farming.

His journey from student to entrepreneur started as a research project in nano structure and thin films, which led him to work on solar simulators. Years later, the project became much bigger.

"I got frustrated with what we were obtaining at the lab, then I started using light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and found that it could mimic sunlight," Taschuk said. "Using LED meant that we could be in front of the next generation of solar simulator."

This is how his company was born and Taschuk's lifestyle changed "my day-to-day at the university was spent supervising graduate students," he said, adding that running a company was a new experience.

"It has surprised me how much extra work this was. There were many things I didn't know existed, such as setting up a company, or the daily requirements that sales generate."

G2V carries two products: solar simulators and the G2V Sunbeam, an engineered sunlight system to "talk to plants."

The G2V Sunbeam provides plants with the light they need for any time of day, any time of year, in any location in the world. The G2V Sunbeam will potentially increase yield, and improve vegetable nutritional value and taste.

Taschuk believes this product can make an impact on vertical farming. "Lettuce and micro greens can be grown in large quantities, with less water use or chemical use," he said. "Vertical farming has control advantages."

For vertical farmers this means more efficiency and safer products in larger quantities.

To go from a lab to commercialization, Taschuk had the support from professor Michael Brett, the U of A Nanobridge Program and the National Institute of Nanotechnology. He says forming the company wouldn't have been possible without their back up. These programs helped him with the funding to prove the concept, a key step in business development.

Now that he has proven the concept, Taschuk is continuing to develop the business and improving the products.

He says business is a discipline that has significant structures and it's important that he gets the opinions of experts. He is working with a group of advisors and mentors who help him see the industry from a different perspective. For Taschuk, the key in business development relies on being patient.

The U of A is supportive of these kinds of initiatives. On campus, there are many groups that guide students develop their business. EHub provides guidance and a network during those initial steps, and TEC Edmonton guides spinoffs during commercialization stages.

"I never thought I'd be working in this field," said Taschuk. "But many skills in engineering are transferable."