Startup Spotlight: Dubai-Based Indoor Farming Startup KRISPR On A Mission To Transform Agriculture

KRISPR works on reversing nutritional decline by bringing together the best elements of science and technology to cultivate nutritious, fresh, and beyond organic quality food.

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For those of us living in the Middle East, access to fresh, locally produced ingredients is limited, which is why many opt for the next best option: imported ingredients and frozen foods. But did you know that a considerable percentage of nutritional value is actually lost in the imported produce that you find in your local grocery outlets? According to a research by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, different nutrients in the various types of imported food produce deteriorate at different rates. Now, for a country like the UAE, which imports 85% of its food products, this could pose grave food security issues in the long run. “Food security is being impacted by three key factors: climate change and water scarcity, issues with traditional agriculture such as soil degradation, agricultural runoff and pesticide-use, and a large expected future global population of 9.5 billion humans,” explains Khadija Hasan, founder and CEO of Dubai-based indoor farming startup KRISPR. And Hasan’s analysis of the situation reflects what many studies continue to show: imported foods are not the solution. “Imports try to address some of these issues, but produce is often harvested early to withstand extended supply chains and ripened by force,” she explains. “It can therefore be lower in nutritional quality and flavor.”

Khadija Hasan, founder and CEO of Dubai-based indoor farming startup KRISPR

To tackle this persisting and pressing problem, Hasan came up with a simple yet effective idea: turning warehouses into indoor farming areas using technology and artificial intelligence (AI). The idea eventually came to fruition, with her enterprise, Krispr, launching in March 2021. “We are developing a way to decouple agriculture from climate, soil, and other factors that have traditionally chained farming,” Hasan adds. “The thesis that one could convert a warehouse into farmland by deploying hardware and software was what initially inspired me to explore this field further.”

While the startup is still refining its operational pilot located at the Dubai Investment Park, Hasan’s claims of what she and her team have set out to achieve are promising. “On the product side of our business model, our unique selling point is that our produce is hyper-local, pesticide-free, has great taste and is nutritious, grown sustainably using less than 80% water with minimal food miles, and available all year round,” she explains. “But from a technology perspective, the ability to farm anywhere and in all seasons, in or near cities, and by using less land, less water, and no pesticides is our biggest differentiating factor.”

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KRISPR’s business model is particularly impressive when you take into account that it aligns quite neatly with some of the prominent food security policies in the UAE. Take, for example, the goal of the National Food Security Strategy 2051. As per this, the UAE “aims to achieve zero hunger by ensuring access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food, all year round,” by specifically aiming to adopt agricultural methods that increase productivity and production. But even as KRISPR continues to avail the many advantages of technological advancements, Hasan remains wary that at the heart of all this innovation is the very visceral human connection that is formed through producing food. “On the growing side, innovation and continuous improvement play a key role in everything we do,” she says. “But at the end of the day, though, food is all about human connection.”

With the startup currently in its pre-seed stage, Hasan also sheds light on another human touchpoint pivotal to scaling operations: hiring the right talent. “Our sector is quite new, and the most challenging part for us is to be able to attract the right talent, and the right investment partners,” she adds. “Dubai is a great place to live, and that certainly helps in conversations with potential hires.” That would also explain why Hasan was so keen on KRISPR becoming a part of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund (MBRIF) accelerator program in the Emirate. “As a young company, it’s important for us to maintain perspective while brainstorming and troubleshooting our problems with others who have walked a similar path,” Hasan says. “The accelerator allows that exchange of ideas, and there are also numerous opportunities for mentorship with subject matter experts.” And given the UAE’s drive to build a sustainable food chain system, KRISPR looks set to positively contribute to this ecosystem as well- it seems to be only a matter of time.

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Aalia Mehreen Ahmed

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Aalia Mehreen Ahmed is the Features Writer at Entrepreneur Middle East. She is an MBA (Finance) graduate with past experience in the corporate sector, and is also co-founder of CyberSWIFTT- an anti-cyberbullying campaign that ran from 2017-2018 as part of the e7: Daughters of the Emirates program. A self-proclaimed bibliophile, she has a penchant for chai, cricket, and all things BTS.