Lumago is a technology company that helps greenhouse owners increase their profitability. They’ve developed an aquaponics system that increases produce yields and quality, and decreases the cost and risk of upgrading and changing technologies. Aquaponics is a growing technique dependent on a symbiotic relationship between fish and plants; fish are fed and produce waste, and the plants use the waste as fertilizer, cleaning the water for the fish. We spoke to Lumago CEO & Cofounder, Melissa Houghton, about her inspiration for Lumago and her experience with entrepreneurship. Here’s what she had to say:
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR YOUR COMPANY?
Our team noticed that most produce available in the grocery store is unfortunately imported. This is because, for most of the year, it’s cheaper to ship produce from other countries rather than grow it down the street (and in Hamilton, the greenhouses are just down the street).
We were inspired to see if we could help bring more Canadian produce to Canadian plates. So, our team went and visited local greenhouses and they agreed that our technology could help them remain competitive throughout more of the year.
WHAT DO YOU FIND MOST REWARDING ABOUT BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR? THE MOST CHALLENGING?
Working for myself is one of the most rewarding aspects of being an entrepreneur. Getting up every morning and realizing that everything I do is advancing my dream (as opposed to someone else’s) is extraordinarily motivating.
The most challenging part is putting down my work to take a break. There are nights when I’ll realize I’ve worked straight until 2 am, and I very rarely take a ‘weekend’. Loving your work makes it hard to put it down.
ENTRERENEURSHIP – HOW HAS IT DEFIED (OR LIVED UP TO) YOUR EXPECTATIONS?
I originally thought that being an entrepreneur meant slaving away, with the constant threat of failure hanging over your head. In reality, I work way more than I thought humanly possible, and I am constantly motivated to succeed. Though my expectations were fairly accurate, my perspective on entrepreneurship has changed for the better.
HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH INNOVATION FACTORY?
In March 2016, we competed in, and won, the Spectrum Startup Pitch Competition. This competition awarded us a space at The Forge; McMaster’s campus-linked accelerator. From there, we got to connect with Innovation Factory, where we have taken workshops, utilized their space, and made many useful connections.
WHAT HAVE YOU VALUED MOST ABOUT INNOVATION FACTORY’S SERVICES/SUPPORT?
The constant support is what Lumago has valued the most so far!
Any time I am in, people are asking how things are going with Lumago. No matter which staff member I am talking to, they offer their help – be it advice, services, or just a question I hadn’t thought of. The genuine helpfulness of each conversation is the best part of Innovation Factory’s energy.
HOW DO YOU MEASURE SUCCESS?
As an early stage startup, success is hard to measure. That being said, we do measure it; we judge our potential customers’ reactions, we track our progress against our projections, and many other things.
My most important indicator of success at this point, is if at the end of the day, week, and month, I feel that I did the most that I could, while ensuring maximum quality.
WHAT IS THE BEST RECOGNITION YOU HAVE RECEIVED?
Winning the Spectrum Stand-Up Pitch competition was amazing recognition of our work. The prize helped launch our prototyping, but the recognition really solidified our confidence. As a start-up, you are often looking for those who agree with your idea, because it is easy to find those to doubt it, and this competition was one of the best forms of ‘agreement’ we could have hoped for at such an early stage.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR ASPIRING ENTREPRENEURS WHO MAY JUST HAVE AN IDEA?
Talk to your potential customers, and don’t be afraid to change your idea.
Without talking to your potential customers, you have no way to validate if your idea is going to make you money. I promise, your family and friends will like one of your ideas. They may even encourage you to pursue it. But they aren’t your customers; they aren’t the hundreds, or thousands, of people that you are targeting. They are only a handful. Go talk to potential customers.
Changing and progressing your idea is the most important part of being an entrepreneur. If my team hadn’t changed, or pivoted, we’d still be targeting restaurants who have no practical use for our product. We went out and talked to customers, and it turned out our original target market weren’t our ideal customers after all. We then went and talked to greenhouses, and they told us that our idea was great but our product needed major adjustments. We pivoted two major times before we even had a design for our product. Since those two major pivots, we have made hundreds of smaller, but significant changes. Be flexible, and be ready to change and develop your idea.
WHY IS HAMILTON THE HOME FOR YOUR COMPANY?
Lumago started as an idea for my Master’s program at Hamilton’s McMaster University. From there, it was developed into a business plan, and then a start-up company. On top of that, Hamilton is situated right between two important research centres; Vineland which specializes in horticulture, and the Alma Aquaculture Research Station, making it perfectly located for us to stay easily involved in both research centres.
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