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North Van entrepreneur faces the Grizzly Den
Capilano University student Mike Bailey had just 100 seconds to convince the "Grizzlies" to invest in Purity Aquafarms, an innovative way to grow organic freshwater fish and produce.
In this budding entrepreneur's urban warehouse, fish and plants help each other grow in an efficient closed system.
The result: Fresh food within blocks of markets and restaurants. At the moment Bailey delivers tilapia — a hearty fish native to Africa — and organic herbs to local vendors.
He took this idea to the Grizzly Den, North Vancouver's version of CBC's Dragons' Den. Up against dozens of student teams from Cap U, BCIT, SFU and UBC, Purity Aquafarms won $2,000 in cash and in-kind services for first place overall.
Aquaponics, the combination of hydroponics (growing plants in water without soil) and aquaculture (the farming of aquatic life), is taking hold throughout the U.S. and some parts of Canada.
"Where I differ from everybody else is that I'm doing it with a smaller budget. I'm not hiring an engineering firm to come in and spend a million to set it up," Bailey, a North Vancouver native, tells The Outlook. "I'm trying to do it so it's feasible for anyone anywhere in the world to set it up."
Eventually he would like to expand from his warehouse in East Vancouver to cities across Canada.
In terms of production, it's no small operation.
A 3,700-square-foot greenhouse, can produce 60,000 heads of lettuce and 11,000 pounds of fresh tilapia per year. He will be building a system than can grow twice to four-times more produce.
"The United States has more regulations, but Mexico doesn't have a lot — they can use pretty much whatever pesticides they want and can use fertilizers freely," says Bailey. "I was getting tired of knowing food was coming up here that has no real safeguards. We don't know what we're eating."
With a background in construction, he decided to take the one-year BOSS Entrepreneurship Program from Cap U.
Along with other student projects including MyMarkitplace, a smartphone app that will be designed to scan food to determine its origins, Bailey pitched to a panel of judges at Zen Launchpad, a hub for start-up businesses on Lower Lonsdale.
"Students had the chance to get feedback and see whether they can turn it into a real business," said Cyri Jones, an instructor at Cap U and BCIT and co-founder of Zen Lauchpad.
Bailey graduates at the end of December and is already ahead of the game.
Since Canada has a short growing season, he began by searching for ways to increase local organic food production.
Out of this came Purity AquaFarms.
"While we raise the fish, the [manure] is used in a filtering system to change into nutrients for the plants.
"We mimic nature. If you look at a stream where there are a lot of fish, you'll notice there is a lot of vegetation around the edge."
Since he can't process fish in the warehouse, Bailey sells them alive, mostly to Asian markets. The short travel distances reduce greenhouse gases.
Tilapia is his current fish of choice because it grows quickly and can he stocked at a high density, not to mention mortality rates are low at one to two per cent.
"It has a very light flavor so it's easy to make it whatever flavor you'd like."
Right now he's mainly growing basil and arugula, but plans to add heirloom tomatoes and cucumber.
"Basil does not travel well, it doesn't have a very long shelf life. As it dries it loses its flavor," he explains. "This way is perfect. I can literally pick it that morning and have it to the restaurants within an hour or two."