Alumni Spotlight: How Max Knight is Revolutionizing the Agriculture Industry with Robotics and Vertical Farming
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When asking a kid what they want to be when they grow up, they often mention something world-changing like a superhero, astronaut, professional athlete–you name it! There is always something awe-inspiring about a child’s ambition to be impactful. When we actually grow up, we tend to lose sight of these dreams. Max Knight tells a different story. As a kid, Max describes himself as having a “drive to do good, and try and make things better in one way or another.” That’s why he founded Urban Farms: a robotics company focused on indoor agriculture. They aim to revolutionize the farming industry by making the agriculture industry more sustainable, efficient, and ethical.
The Initial inspiration: Dr. Dickson Despommier
Max’s fascination with sustainability and indoor farming started in high school when he read The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century by Dr. Dickson Despommier. Interested in learning more, Max had the opportunity to interview Dr.Dickson for a high school project. Since Max is from New York and Dr. Dickson taught at Columbia University, Max took a short train ride to meet with the professor. During their meeting, they discussed the benefits of vertical farming and how it could address global food security issues. Max mentions that with indoor agriculture,
“You can grow with 95% less water, you can use no pesticides, there’s no agricultural runoff into the environment, and you can do it locally basically anywhere”
Max also mentions that in the long term, humanity is faced with climate change. It is becoming increasingly difficult to grow food outdoors because of environmental factors such as droughts and floods. Vertical farming can solve many of these problems, but it’s difficult to be profitable and Max is determined to crack that code with robotics.
The Seeds of Passion
The interview with Dr.Dickson is where the seed of Max’s passion for sustainability was planted. Max decided to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering with a Minor in Ethnic Studies from the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder). Throughout Max’s career, he has strived for a sustainable focus. When asked about this, he recommends to
“Find something meaningful to you [that] you think is impactful, and at least give it a shot. If you can do that, then why not? We only live once.”
Combining Sustainability and Innovation
In the “only living once” spirit, Max utilized the skills and knowledge he learned at CU Boulder to innovate and create his first company, HydroBot. HydroBot was a hardware and software company focused on small-scale hydroponic gardening, which is a soil-free method of growing plants. Hydroponic systems are especially useful because they are extremely efficient. The HydroBot robotic system worked well for small hydroponic systems, but Max wanted to “do something bigger with more impact”. He started looking at ways to scale up indoor farming but kept running into the challenge of the high cost of labor. Using his expertise in robotics and agriculture, Max and his team eventually successfully built Urban Farms: a robotic, hydroponic solution that enables large-scale farming in indoor environments.
BarnBurner Competition: Vote for Urban Farms
Currently, Urban Farms is competing in BarnBurner by Sweater: the world’s largest consumer pitch competition. The competition is currently in round two, and people who move onto round 3 have the chance to win $500,000 in seed funding for their venture. The incredible thing about BarnBurner is that anyone can decide who gets to move on to the next round. If you have found Urban Farm’s story inspiring in any way, vote for them to move on to the final round by downloading and voting on the Sweater app.
Max Knight is the catalyst for world-disrupting advancement in the agriculture industry. Throughout his life, he knew what he was passionate about, kept sustainability at the forefront of his focus, and never lost sight of his end goal. To stay up to date with what Max and Urban Farms are doing, make sure to follow along on their LinkedIn!