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Students will go green vertically

Four students from three different engineering programmes at the Faculty of Engineering at SDU will grow green lettuce vertically in the start-up company Hydrovertic. They are among the many students who have received their own company registration number.

By Jakob Haugaard Christiansen, , 8/27/2021

Spinach sprouted in coconut fibre and grown in water that is five layers high. Without land and with minimal water consumption in so-called vertical farming.

That is the goal for the four engineering students from the Faculty of Engineering in Odense and Sønderborg, who have literally planted the seed for a sprouting business while they are still students at the university.

– It is not something that is very widespread in Denmark, but in other European countries such as the Netherlands, vertical farming is used to a greater extent, says Rudy Mandrup Cazelles.

286 active start-ups

The 24-year-old engineering student handed in his thesis on Product Development and Engineering before the summer holidays. Together with his fellow students Jacob Høj Copeland, Oskar Pazylbekov, and Iris M. Madsen, he is behind the start-up company Hydrovertic, which will develop systems that will be used in vertical farming.

With this, the four students have set up another company registration number and a start-up company on the SDU-map through SDU Entrepreneurship Labs, which houses 286 active start-ups with 456 students on board.

Among them are the four engineering students from the Faculty of Engineering, where just over 40 per cent of the start-ups originate. This is shown in figures from SDU Entrepreneurship Labs, which is part of SDU RIO.

Start-ups at SDU in 2020

  • 286 active start-ups
  • 456 students involved
  •  DKK 10.95 million in funding for active start-ups
  • DKK 4.88 million revenue for active start-ups
  • 77 company registration numbers noted.

Distribution on faculties

  • Faculty of Engineering: 203 students and 124 start-ups
  • Faculty of Business and Social Sciences: 59 students and 45 start-ups
  • Faculty of Humanities: 61 students and50 start-ups
  • Faulty of Health Sciences: 75 students and 55 start-ups
  • Faculty of Science: 18 students and 17 start-ups.

Here, the young students become acquainted with both entrepreneurship learning and the world of start-ups with the help of internal and external experts and mentors from the business world.

– We want to help the many small nurseries that want to compete with the large suppliers, and who want to change part of the production so that they grow in smarter and more efficient ways. There is great potential among the producers who have not yet automated their production. With this, they can utilise the space even better, says Iris M. Masen.

As the only one of the four, she has experience in starting her own business. Today she is out of it, but she did not hesitate when Oskar, Rudy and Jacob asked if she would make up the fourth pillar of the company.

– We all have the same interest in sustainability. We want to save the world, she says, smiling but seriously.

Seeds in coconut fibre

Before the summer holidays, the entrepreneurs received DKK 196,000 from Local Action Groups (LAGs), which distribute funds from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

– We are setting it all up right now, so we can test and complete the development of our system, says Rudy Mandrup Cazelles.

He works together with his three co-founders in the premises in Rudme on Midtfyn, where they will soon lay the first seeds in the ground - or rather, coconut fibres.

The topsoil is replaced by coconut fibre, where the crops must germinate in a small bowl for a couple of days. Then the young plants are moved into trays with water - in five layers, so you take advantage of the height in the room. The room in Rudme is 64 square meters, but by going in height, the space is multiplied many times over.

We all have the same interest in sustainability. We want to save the world

Iris M. Masen, student and co-founder

The entrepreneurs started out as part of the talent programme at SDU Entrepreneurship Labs together with 24 other selected students, who over a year have worked with everything from idea development, establishing a start-up and the first sales within the university.

– They get the opportunity to link practical competencies to the disciplines they already have from the programme, by working with their own company. says Katrine Damgaard Foster, business developer at SDU Entrepeneurships Labs.

– It's kind of a gift shop of tools, networks, and competencies that they get access to when they tap into our incubation environment. At the same time, they are building a strong network for external actors such as investors, mentors, and the surrounding business community, she says.

Utilising the square meters

There is still only a simple and unfinished steel stand in the premises in Rudme, where the students soon will have their combined show- and test room ready.

– That is the advantage of vertical farming. Or one of them. You can use the cubic metres and not just the square meters when you grow spinach which we for example start with, says Rudy Mandrup Cazelles.

The spinach is chosen because the crop can document the effect when it comes to nutrients. The system works with minimal use of water, which is reduced by 90 per cent compared to traditional production. At the same time, no pesticides are used, as the soil has been removed from the equation, says the young director.

Potential partners

Now the four are getting ready for a test and development process, and they have already contacted potential partners in the horticulture industry so that the technology can be tested in a number of companies.

– It is a clear advantage to start a business while you are still in education because it gives you access to a lot of knowledge and skilled people who would very much like to help you. In fact, we have also been able to get help from some of our fellow students, says Rudy Mandrup Cazelles.

Vertical farming

The Hydrovertic systems are designed to make it easy for existing greenhouse farms to scale vertically, without the high cost. It has several advantages for the farmer, which can limit the outflow of nutrients, increase production areas, and compete against increasing imports of groceries from abroad and the new "super farms" that are emerging.

Hydroponic cultivation is a way of growing vegetables where the plant grows in nourishing water, instead of soil. With vertical hydroponic cultivation, one utilises every square meter in greenhouses by having several layers of vegetables on top of each other.

Hydroponic vertical cultivation is thus a method that makes it possible to produce more crops in less space, be independent of the weather, have a more reliable harvest and reduce waste significantly. In addition, hydroponic cultivation eliminates the need for pesticides, drastically reduces water consumption and the emission of phosphorus and nitrogen.


Rudy Mandrup Cazelles, co-founder and CEO of Hydrovertic, mobile (+45) 2323 3773.

Editing was completed: 27.08.2021