Real Leaf Farm delivers premium leafy greens 365 days a year.
Galway business Real Leaf Farm helps retail and foodservice companies and their customers to thrive through locally-sourced, sustainably grown leafy greens.
“We grow using hydroponic technology with no soil, no pesticides, no carbon miles, 90% less water and Real Leaf Farm is repurposing Irish bog to help deliver on ESG and Sustainability Goals,” explained Karen Hennessy, CEO and co-founder of Real Leaf Farm.
“Do not afraid of the naysayers – being an agri-tech start-up means that we are pioneering and disrupting – and many people and companies do not like change”
“30% of leafy greens are throw away, we reduce this, we deliver a 2-week shelf life with a great taste and quality product.”
Hennessy was speaking to ThinkBusiness in advance of last week’s Ireland’s Sustainable Future conference which was held in Tullamore.
Real Leaf Farm was one of seven innovative and scaling Irish businesses that took part in the Bord na Móna Accelerate Green accelerator that are leading the charge in the climate action fight.
Accelerate Green is the first Irish accelerator dedicated to scaling companies leading the response to climate action and sustainability by developing products and services based on green innovation.
Running between February to May 2022, Accelerate Green operated from from Boora, which represents the centre of Bord na Móna’s innovation heritage, demonstrating Bord na Móna’s commitment to the Midlands’ communities who are a key part of an ecosystem of projects and assets connected to eco-innovation, circular economy, and sustainability.
It goes without saying that Real Leaf Farm’s offering is very timely. “We help retail and foodservice companies, by providing locally sourced, sustainably grown leafy greens, thereby ensuring food security, reducing food waste and carbon footprint while all the time delivering on taste and quality.
“Currently 19,000 tonnes of leafy greens are consumed in Ireland each year – over 80% of these are imported from countries such as Spain, Italy and even further afield such as Israel, adding significant carbon miles to each leafy green that is eaten in Ireland,” Hennessy pointed out.
According to Hennessy, partnering with Real Leaf Farm enables Retail or Foodservice Companies to:
- Reduce leafy food waste
- Reduce food (carbon) miles
- Guarantee food security – 100% grown in Ireland
- 365 days availability
- And deliver on 8 of 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals
Real Leaf Farm will deliver this through:
- Premium leafy greens grown using hydroponic technology
- No soil, no pesticides, no carbon miles,
- 90% less water
- 2-week shelf life
- Land reuse – repurposing Irish bog
The main founders are Eddie Kilbane, Pa Nolan and Karen Hennessy.
CEO Hennessy has over 20 years senior leadership experience in both multinational food organisations and the public sector. Appointed to drive the development and scale Real Leaf Farm into a multi-national business over the next five years.
She also has experience of working with Government departments and Government agencies – she was previously the CEO of the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland. Karen also has extensive experience in scaling food businesses, deal evaluation, negotiations and execution, having spent nine years in Glanbia plc where she was responsible for acquiring Glanbia’s first nutritional businesses (she grew Glanbia Nutritionals from €20m to €150m, Glanbia Performance Nutrition now has a turnover of €1.2bn). During this period she also set up Glanbia’s first innovation centre.
Eddie Kilbane is the founder and promoter of the Real Leaf Farm which he set up in April 2018. He is a serial entrepreneur and investor in data centre technology, software and agritech. Eddie has over 30 years’ experience in the construction and IT engineering industry, bringing a diverse range of experience especially in heating and cooling technologies.
The chair of Real Leaf Green Pa Nolan spent most of his early career in the financial services Industry. He held various roles in the executive management team and was a Fexco director for over 25 years. Originally from a farming background, he spent a number of years as an agriculture lending specialist with AIB. Pa currently holds a number of directorships and investments in start-up and entrepreneurial companies.
Reflecting on the start-up ecosystem in Ireland, Hennessy explained: “The ecosystem is generally good in Ireland but companies need to be knowledgeable about how to access it – and that is not always easy, especially in a start-up. A course like Accelerate Green provides that knowledge and signposting for sustainable companies which is invaluable.”
She said that the company is currently raising significant funding for two sites, the first of which is in Ballycon in Offaly.
In terms of lessons learned during the start-up phase of Real Leaf Farm, Hennessy said: “It is essential that a company fully understand the mandate of any venture capitalist or fund that they are engaging with. If a company does not fit the mandate – then you need to move on politely – you never know when you might fit or there is movement between funders.
“Ensure that you have a good team to support you – again not easy when cash can be tight – but having a strong team and board will allow companies to scale much faster.”
Her advice to fellow founders is to be patient but focused. “It takes much longer to get a business of the ground especially if it requires significant infrastructure. Talk to as many people as you can within the industry – both upstream and downstream. You will learn something from every conversation.
“Also do not afraid of the naysayers – being an agritech start-up means that we are pioneering and disrupting – and many people and companies do not like change.
The business makes strong use of technology to stay agile.
“Obviously Microsoft Teams and Zoom have been essential for communication during Covid and has enable us communicate and build as a team even though we are based in different counties and countries.
“Developments in agritech software enables our business to track the energy requirements, CO2 levels, humidity, ph Levels and oxygen at any time night or day. This means that we monitor to achieve both the perfect growing conditions for the crop but also ensure there is no wastage of inputs and thus improving our carbon footprint.
“Developments in heating and cooling technologies is also changing the face of hydroponics. Currently there are glasshouses shutting down in the Netherlands because of the price of gas and fertiliser. Sustainably heated glasshouses using waste heat and/or renewable energy, are able to remain in operation and thus keep food on the table at affordable prices. This is a prime example of how investing in renewable technology helps keep the cost of living down.”