Now it’s time to take a close look at a small but competitive business making a difference for the Korean economy. On the second installment of our special coverage on startup companies that made an impression at “Hey Startups Festival,” we’ll take a close look at n.thing, a company that introduced the “Internet of Things” to farming. The company’s CTO Baik Kyeonghoon (백경훈) tells us more.
n.thing was founded in 2014 by young entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s. We started off by making a gardening journal app for those growing plants, followed by an Internet-connected planter called “Planty”, which allows you to monitor and water plants on-the-go via the mobile app. We also created a modular hydroponic set in which you can easily grow herbs and other houseplants. We are leading the cause to make farming younger, more fun, and familiar. The Earth’s population will reach 10 billion by 2050, and we’ll need 70% more food than now. But the number of farmers and those who produce foodstuffs is declining, while people’s standard for food is going the opposite way. As a solution to such problems, we focused on controlled agriculture, paying extra attention to agriculture based in cities.
N.thing is a young company that creates products by adding the Internet of Things technology to agriculture. Starting with the CEO Kim Hyeyeon (김혜연) who majored in electrical engineering at university, the founders of n.thing are far from being farmers. But these young people decided to dedicate their futures to agriculture, focusing on the fact that the number of farmers is decreasing while the growing global population and climate change means more food will be needed. Countless discussions were held to come up with the perfect product that would allow anyone to farm. The solution was found via the Internet of Things, which creates new values and services by connecting everyday objects to the internet. With an aim to develop state-of-the-art farming services equipped with the IoT technology, n.thing rolled out a gardening journal application the same year the company was founded. The app connects mobile services and gardening, by keeping track of plants’ photographs and various conditions, including the weather, temperature and water level. With this app, n.thing began to bring to life its vision of “smart farming.”
Farming IoT is a system and service that defies the farming convention of relying on knowledge or experiences, and allows even gardening newbies to easily access and learn about horticulture by using accumulated data. For example, “Planty” is a smart pot that you can control even when you’re not at home, via Wi-fi. Built-in sensors monitor the temperature, light, and water levels, so you can check your plants’ environment at any time. You get a notification when your plant needs water, and you can even water it using your smartphone. House plants die most often because people lose interest and forget to water them, or due to a lack of light. “Planty” communicates the plants’ needs to the user through their smartphones. And you can always water your plants even while traveling, so you won’t have to worry about your plant dying while you’re away.
“Planty” is an IoT pot that connects with an application via a network. It’s equipped with sensors that measure the condition of the plant’s surroundings, like the temperature or humidity, as well as a device that can water the plant. So once you put some soil in, plant a seed, and connect it to the internet, you can check the pot’s condition, such as the humidity level of the soil or the temperature, via your smartphone. If the soil is too dry, you can water your plant remotely by simply pressing a button on your smartphone. The smart pot that uses various state-of-the-art technologies, including the IoT technology, sensor technologies and data analyses, won n.thing global attention.
In January 2014, n.thing was chosen as one of SparkLabs accelerator’s fourth intakes, successfully securing early investments. Soon, additional investments flooded in from TriBeluga, Intops, Korea Development Bank, and Empower Investment. TriBeluga and Empower Investment are Chinese investors. I believe we were able to win their support because future food production is considered important in China as well. In May 2015, we started a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to get some momentum on international sales. We reached our goal of receiving pre-orders worth 100,000 dollars, and completed the production and shipping of all orders. Currently, we’re crowdfunding for a second product.
After drawing attention from global investors with the help of the accelerator, which helps startups connect with investors, n.thing was also a success on the American crowdfunding website Kickstarter in 2015. In just 45 days, the company received $13,000 in funding and the following year, sent out the first order of “Planty” products worldwide. Today, n.thing is promoting a follow-up product that’s even more evolved than their first smart pot.
Currently we’re accepting pre-orders on a product called “Planty Square.” It’s an easy-to use modular hydroponic kit that’s like capsule coffee. You just have to insert one of our “Pickcells” into the pot and the plants start to grow. The “Pickcell” is a capsule that contains both soil and seeds. All you have to do is insert this capsule into our product, and the plants will grow. We developed this technology so that anyone can grow plants with ease.
“Planty Square” allows you to grow plants indoors even more easily than “Planty.” All you have to do is insert a capsule with soil and seeds in it into a square box, and add water to grow the plants you want. In addition, n.thing has also developed what they’re calling the “Smart Farm Solution,” which can be installed in any cultivation structures, such as a greenhouse, to let the user check the farm’s temperature, water, and light levels on their smartphones or PCs. N.thing is dreaming of an agricultural revolution based on improved connectivity.
We dream of a world where everyone could become a farmer. That’s why we’re studying ways through which anyone could easily grow and eat vegetables. Although we started out with a small IoT pot, our focus has always been on agriculture as a whole. Using various technologies that went into the smart pot, such as the sensors, we’re now connecting cultivation structures to the internet. It does not only help manage the cultivation more conveniently, but it also accumulates related data, which will help make farming more practical by saving time and resources. N.thing is working hard, because we believe that in the end, this would help the world solve the food shortage problem we now face.
N.thing’s vision is to create a world where anyone could be a farmer. From smart gardening to urban smart farms, the company continues to develop products and services needed for efficient agriculture. N.thing is fast becoming a leader in the 6th industry, which creates added value for the primary industry of agriculture.