We talked to Louis Brun of Sollum Technologies on how the most advanced and easy-to-use greenhouse lighting solution is in harmony with nature and a local, ethical and sustainable economy and this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Louis Brun: I think we’re handling it pretty well all things considered. At Sollum™, we already had a remote work policy before COVID-19, which enabled us to get on the same page quickly and effectively to make the COVID-19 transition as smooth as possible for the company.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Sollum Technologies.
Louis Brun: I’m a serial entrepreneur in the technology space, and Sollum™ is my fourth startup. After Silicon Valley’s Guavus acquired my last project, I stayed on for a few years to grow the business and enter the European and Asian markets before moving on searching for a new challenge. While visiting the Centechdeeptech incubator in Montréal, I was captivated by the potential of Sollum’s innovative prototype and joined the project as co-founder and CEO.
How does Sollum Technologies innovate?
Louis Brun: Sollum innovates by bringing a new technological approach to the greenhouse industry’s artificial lighting market. In effect, horticultural lighting systems are designed the same way lighting has designs for over a hundred years: they consume a lot of electricity, have a short lifespan, emit pollutants, produce a fixed spectrum, aren’t programmable and lack integrated connectivity. The emergence of LED lighting technology brought significant change to the market in the last decade, but most LED solutions use only blue and red wavelengths commonly associated with photosynthesis. As billions of years of evolution demonstrate, the optimal light spectrum for cultivation is that of the Sun’s natural light, which varies according to the time of day, the season and geography.
That’s why Sollum offers greenhouse producers the only smart LED lighting solution which dynamically recreates, perfects and modulates the full spectrum of the Sun’s natural light in real-time and with 99% accuracy. Our cloud-based SUN as a Service™ platform uses smart algorithms to create an infinite number of light recipes adapted in tandem with our LED fixture, which plays the Sun’s natural light cycle with unparalleled precision to each plant for greenhouse cultivation. Our technology enables greenhouse growers to grow fruits or vegetables in greenhouses anywhere in the world, regardless of their native region.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Louis Brun: We had to adapt our logistics, manufacturing, supply chain and installation processes in light of public health guidelines and the disruptions associated with them, but our team did a fantastic job of rising to the challenge and meeting our goals. One positive consequence of the pandemic for us is that it put the topic of food autonomy front and centre of public discourse in Canada because of our dependence on foreign supply chains for produce during the winter. As a result, the Canadian greenhouse industry and ancillary products and services have become much more of a priority for public investment. Additionally, given our technology’s potential to help deseasonalize greenhouse production by compensating for low levels of natural light during the winter, we’ve seen a significant uptick in interest and demand.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Louis Brun: In the early days of the pandemic, we were faced with the total disruption of our workspace for product development, assembly, and testing just as we were ramping up the production process to deliver almost 40 times the number of units, we shipped last year for our first commercial-scale deployments. Thankfully, we were designated an “essential service” by the government, so we could get the people we needed back in the office, but we had to scramble to stay on track and schedule. Following through and executing despite the circumstances was very difficult, but I’m so proud of and impressed by our team’s resilience and adaptability in the face of uncertainty and adversity. One big lesson I learned is how fortunate I am to count on such a strong and cohesive team. We proved that we could stick together and execute through challenging times.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Sollum Technologies in the future?
Louis Brun: I’m a big believer in work/life balance, so whenever I have the opportunity to get outside and do some outdoor sports with my family, it’s a huge relief from stress and anxiety. It helps me be present at the moment, reset, and refresh my mindset. For the future, I see us building on this year’s momentum. We successfully executed two commercial-scale deployments, enabled novel greenhouse production practices by growing and harvesting pepper during the winter period (a world first) and received the Solar Impulse Foundation Efficient Solution label designating only 1000 clean and profitable technologies worldwide. We’re aiming to grow our sales with new and existing clients and continue our trials of light recipes for the winter production of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers through 2021.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Louis Brun: Our direct competitors are Signify, Fluence by Osram, GE Current Agrolux and Heliospectra. We plan to stay in the game by continuously improving our solution, successfully executing market entry in North America, and building our team with talent aligned with our company values. On top of that, our solution’s flexibility enables us to remain at the cutting edge of the industry by integrating the latest scientific breakthroughs in the science of horticultural lighting and updating our smart fixtures with the spectra to reflect them, making our technology future-proof. We’re committed to making those updates available to our clients and partners, and providing them with first-rate client support from the first contact through their first harvest.
Your final thoughts?
Louis Brun: I’m excited about leading a company whose technology contributes to addressing fundamental challenges such as food sustainability and meets the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by making agriculture more local, ethical and sustainable. The COVID-19 pandemic represents a massive opportunity for our societies to shift gears and address systemic issues like climate change, demographic growth, and the costs of a global food supply chain. We’re proud our technology helps move the ball forward, and I encourage entrepreneurs around the world to lead the way in providing solutions to these challenges.
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