Keeping Tabs with R/Labs — Agnetix: Getting ‘Lit’ and Changing (Horti)Culture
Agnetix is a horticulture lighting company with a system approach. They provide not just the physical lights but also software and analytics. Their mission is to empower growers with an efficient lighting system as well as the data to make growing decisions.
I had the pleasure of speaking with two awesome members of the Agnetix team — Jordan Miles (CEO of Agnetix) and Ihor Lys (Co-Founder/CTO) — and learning all about how the company was started and how they’re truly innovating the horticulture industry, and doing way more than just producing a fancy lightbulb.
In 1997, Lys was one of the founders of the world’s first LED Lighting Company, Color Kinetics, which he helped grow over 12 years, and saw it go public and get acquired by part of Philips Lighting (now Signify). He had been doing what he called the “LED thing” for a really long time when he decided to move out to California to retire. However, he didn’t even get off the plane before he had people telling him he needed to build LED “grow lights”. Lys said, “growing weed was the biggest problem people thought we had at the time.”
Fast forward almost seven years later and Lys met Co-Founder Nick Maderas, who “had a handle on what the LED could do in an actual grow environment, what the problems were, and what was going on.” They began to think about what a real grow lighting system would look like: they wanted to make not just some kind of product, but a machine that could help grow weed along with other plants.
One of the biggest challenges of building Agnetix, according to Miles is “overcoming the perception that all LED lights are the same.” He used the analogy of cars in a parking lot:
“They’re all cars, but each one is different in its quality, technology and performance. LEDs are the same way.”
What I found especially interesting is that aside from the whole system approach Agnetix is working on, when thinking about plants outside the box, they refer to them as “biological machines” that use sunlight, water, etc., and will have to work with whatever “machines’’ they develop. Initially thinking about lighting, the Agnetix team wanted to build a full system that could go into a greenhouse, which itself is a “machine,” and provide other features that growers were looking for. Ihor stressed that they “want to be the best at providing everything the plant needs, and what the people need to manage the facility.”
It took the Agnetix team a couple years to create a product to show this was possible. They came up with a waterloop system that captures heat that the plants can’t use and gives it back to the growing facility — this was incredibly efficient because facilities often are “strapped for heat” and this “gives people back the energy they’ve already paid for, and puts it where the plants actually need it.” The Agnetix team continued to innovate, creating a product with a very slim profile in order to minimize any potential sun blockage — why waste available energy? They also added a data plan, which apparently a lot of other horticulture companies have overlooked, as they typically just focus on the light itself. For Agnetix, the ability to be able to control the technology without a ton of extra added parts was at the forefront of what they developed. Once they had the data to control the lights, they could reuse that data to get the growers information about the plants to the growers.
Some of the cool features the team is working on in terms of data is being able to not only know the temperatures of the lights, but also greenhouse humidity, CO2 concentration, as well as light levels from other greenhouse appliances. They are also working on the ability to take photos and integrating other sensors, such as those for soil, into the system. Eventually, they hope to be able to produce a full “digital twin” of everything that’s happening, that key stakeholders could easily access anytime and anywhere.
CEO Jordan Miles has spent the last 25 years helping companies digitize manufacturing workflows, or “taking the human being and pen and paper out of the equation, which eliminates errors and latency.” This makes him perfectly positioned to lead Agnetix to have technology that allows efficient manufacturing at scale, which Miles stressed is increasingly important.
“Efficiency in the old days of cannabis didn’t matter — you could have some lightbulb in your grandma’s garage, and make even if your set-up was terrible, you could make money. But as legalization becomes widespread, the industry will be severely needing this tech.”
Since cannabis is currently federally illegal, it is a pretty fragmented industry. This has sometimes served as a challenge for Agnetix, especially with all of the nuances that come with dealing with regulations and the people in the industry. However, as cannabis is slowly but surely moving towards federal legalization, with the House of Representatives recently passing a bill on decriminalization, the Agnetix team is definitely excited as views on the plant change and embrace of the industry comes closer to a bi-partisan reality.
In general, Miles strongly believes that “tech that allows efficient manufacturing at scale, leverages modern engineering, and its outcome will greatly impact the flora and food market,” and while admittedly even Agnetix had somewhat of a siloed approach in the beginning, focusing on producing a horticulture light, their current system approach, as well as focusing on a design that doesn’t require tradespeople to install makes us excited to see what Agnetix will do in the future.
Republic Labs is the advisor to clients which have invested in Agnetix, nothing herein should be construed as investment advice.
By Elizabeth Olshanetsky (firstname.lastname@example.org) for Republic Labs.