The interview: James Deamer from GardenSpace

Thursday 10 August 2017
Nic Crowther's picture
Co Editor
The Shaker

Some people dream of being in the innovation space, and others simply live it. One example is Canberra’s James Deamer.

Not only did James have responsibility for managing E29 co-working space, he’s co-founder and CEO of GardenSpace – a start-up looking to change food production around the world.

The Shaker sat down with James to hear how his plans for world domination are progressing, and what it means to put everything on the line to chase a dream.

 


 

Good morning James, thanks for your time.

Let’s get straight into it… Give us the GardenSpace pitch!

Ha! Okay... so Garden Space is a system designed to make growing food at home easier. People want healthier food, but they also want it to be convenient, and sometimes that can be a battle. So we have a lot of food services that try to fill that space.

However, there is a huge community of people that want to grow their own food.  Let’s face it, that’s the way to get the freshest and best-tasting food possible. With our system you don’t need to be a professional gardener – the product guides you through the process from planting through to harvest.

 

 

We’ve seen other systems attempt to solve this, such as VegePod, on Shark Tank. Why is GardenSpace better?

A lot of what is in the market tries to take the work out of gardening by using sensors that sit in the soil and alert you to the times when you need to add water or nutrients.

That makes sense, but the problem is that you are only measuring the soil immediately around the sensor, and there isn’t a deep understanding of what is happening across the garden bed.

What we’ve learnt is that people get into growing, and they like growing, because it’s fun. They love getting their hands dirty – and that’s also important, because it forms a connection with the food that you are eating.

GardenSpace aims to manage about 90% of the process, leaving 10% of the effort to allow that connection to form. That’s the fun part!

 

So, what’s your IP, if not sensors in the dirt?

It’s a camera.

Instead of using in-bed sensors, we use a camera to monitor the entire bed (up to 5sqm) to see what’s happening across every square inch. For example, we can target specific areas for watering it means that water use is limited and it reduces the risk of certain areas get overwatered.

We collect some other data that determines plant health, and through the camera’s sensors the software can create a complex map of exactly what is happening across all the different crops you’ve planted.

 

Describe the moment you realised the idea for GardenSpace had potential and was worth pursuing.

I’m not sure there was a specific moment. The concept was something I had always been interested in, so it was a steady process to bring the idea the reality. I guess the key moment was when I changed the pace and decided to throw everything I had at it.

But there’s no doubt that commitment creates its own energy and momentum. When other people see you working so hard on a project they seem to believe a lot more in what you are doing, and then they might be interested in coming along with you on the journey.

 

 

That’s a big part of selling the vision…

Oh, without a doubt. If you don’t have a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve, and the ability to clearly communicate that to potential partners and investors, then you’re already in trouble.

That message needs to change for the audience as well. The vision you’re selling to the investor is different to the pitch for the consumer. You have to know the key benefits of your product no matter who you are talking to.

 

As the former manager of E29, was that something you saw new businesses get wrong over and over again?

Yeah… it is common. You’ve got to know why you’re doing something.

I think that if you can’t articulate your idea properly, you should sit down and talk to the person that is going to be your customer, and check their response and engagement with the idea. There’s a good chance they’ll tell you something you don’t know, and perhaps give you a great insight to the market.

They’re not easy to find, though. If you’re idea is for a totally new product, how can you find the person that doesn’t yet realise they’ll want it?

Keep searching, though. The feedback is really important. When I see someone getting excited about their garlic, it breathes new life into what we’re doing.

 

You’ve just returned from Shenzhen. What took you over there?

We were one of only two Australian companies ever selected for the HAX Hardware Accelerator which was amazing. Apparently, it’s easier to get into the Harvard Business School than HAX.

The benefit of the programme is that we get to prototype and test the hardware we’re using with the speed and scale of Chinese manufacturing behind us.

 

Shenzhen is home to some of the world’s most dynamic companies, including TenCent. What was it like to work in China’s innovation hub?

To be honest, we had a bit of a skewed view of Shenzhen, as we spent most of our time working on GardenSpace. We barely got out and about.

What was fantastic was spending a few months with 100 other successful teams and feeding off their energy. There were also another 100 alumni there from previous programmes who were at more advanced stages of their business. That was really inspiring.

 

 

There are obviously huge links between R&D, manufacturing and an enormous potential customer base.

Oh, absolutely. I described Shenzhen as ‘The Fyshwick of Asia’ in that it exists only to be busy. The opportunities are endless, and that’s an incredible space to be in.

 

Did you see any other businesses that made you think, “Wow! That’s a great idea!”

Well, I can’t say too much, but there are some amazing products that will hit Kickstarter pretty soon.

One cool product is designed to help you sleep better – no mask, no drugs. I tried it, and have never felt so rested. It’s incredible.

There is also a great product for tea fanatics, which sounds unusual, but it’s really, really clever.

 

What’s the key lesson you’ve learned – either through your own business or someone else’s?

It’s something we should all know, and it’s something I definitely knew, but the Shenzhen experience really brought it back home for me: What value am I trying to provide for the community?

It’s just that simple.

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