Engineering students Sarah McLennan, James Goode, Jaiden Swanson and Max Brook’s design for an aquaponic gardening system has been recognised in an international competition through the Strascheg Center for Entrepreneurship in Germany.
The second-year Bendigo students won second place in the global innovation challenge against university students from around the world, including the USA, UK, Germany and Russia.
“I think we were all very shocked and speechless,” Sarah says on the win. “It was an incredible honour considering we were up against groups that had been working on their project for many years, whereas we’d only been working on it since March.”
The team sought to design a domestic system for growing nutritious, chemical-free produce which even those living in high rise apartments could use. The design, called HomeGrown, was in response to the fresh food shortages experienced during the pandemic.
“In times of national crisis, like COVID-19, there is a huge strain on the food supply chain. Our solution can help reduce this stress,” Sarah says.
The team describes their design as a space-efficient, low-maintenance, transportable solution to food shortages and decreasing arable land. It’s made of vertical modular growing beds that can be added to as needed.
James says it uses atomisers to deliver a nutrient-rich mist directly to plants’ roots, improving oxygen levels, reducing water usage and the chance of root rot.
“This all happens within a closed system, meaning you don’t need to get your hands dirty,” he says.
“To date we have developed two working prototypes. The first unit was designed to test minimal contact. That means no watering, automated light control and fresh produce all within a sleek enclosure. The second unit is currently in use as a research platform to collect data on the impact of light exposure on the plants themselves.”
He says HomeGrown has the potential to give anyone, regardless of experience, the chance to grow their own fresh veggies.
Sarah says she didn’t expect her Bendigo-based course to lead to an international experience, unless she undertook an exchange. But this competition proved otherwise. She says while she’s still considering her career options in engineering, this experience has shown her that a future as an entrepreneur is highly possible.
Engineering lecturer Eddie Custovic says in his ten years of teaching the Innovation and Entrepreneurship class there have been some incredible student results, “but this one tops it all”.
When international travel becomes possible for students again, the team will travel to Munich for business incubation assistance, on top of their $2,500 prize. In the meantime, they will continue with prototype testing in Bendigo.
Watch the HomeGrown video pitch here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3axdnz-CcfA