Peeling Back the Layers
We are Lianne and Gertjan Meeuws, the catalysts behind Seven Steps To Heaven. For decades, we have been at the forefront of agricultural innovation. Our entrepreneurial journey began in 1989 with the establishment of Buro Meeuws, a research and consultancy firm specializing in horticulture. We partnered with Grodan, laying the foundation for the widespread adoption of hydroponics, and revolutionizing the cultivation of flowering crops. In collaboration with industry giant Philips, we pioneered assimilation lighting using High-Pressure Sodium Lamps, marking a significant breakthrough in agricultural technology. Innovation has always been a driving force for us. We’ve actively sought creative solutions to replace expensive and monotonous manual labor, partnering with forward-thinking individuals to integrate robotics and vision systems into agricultural processes. Our commitment to innovation continues to shape the future of agriculture.
Combining Data and Vision: The Plant Balance Model and the Genesis of Indoor Farming
Back in the early ’90s, we embarked on an extensive five-year big data project. We meticulously collected data from 500 measuring fields, studying various crops and their habitats. The result was a groundbreaking achievement: the development and validation of algorithms that would later form the Plant Balance Model, shedding light on and predicting plant growth. This unveiling showcased the untapped potential within crops, waiting to be unlocked. This potential remained concealed not only in open-field agricultural cultivation, where genetic potential is dampened by the unpredictability of weather and other natural elements, but also in modern greenhouse cultivation. The underlying truth is that crops consistently fall short of reaching their full potential.
In 2005, the fusion of our expertise and mathematical insights led to a pivotal moment: the creation of the very first prototype of an indoor farm with LED-lights. This pioneering endeavor prioritized precision in climate control and specifically tailored light wavelengths, marking a fundamental shift in our approach. We transitioned from replicating natural conditions to focusing on the unique needs of the plants themselves. As we have often stated: ‘Plants Don’t Like Nature!’.
PlantLab’s dynamic growth and Syngenta collaboration
In 2010, PlantLab was born, with Gertjan as CEO and both of us as co-founders. Under our guidance, PlantLab grew to over 40 employees and established global collaborations. In fact, this marked in 2013 our inaugural venture into establishing a partnership, putting forth our IP, expertise, and know-how. In this instance, the collaborator was Syngenta, a Swiss multinational.
During that period, we frequently visited Stanford University and established an office in Silicon Valley. The pinnacle of our efforts was undeniably the inauguration of our new headquarters and R&D center by the Dutch King Willem Alexander. However, a difference in vision led to our departure in late 2014.
Breathing Fresh Air into Farming: The Laminar Airflow Revolution
In 2015, we introduced the Laminar Airflow Technique to enhance climate control in indoor farms, inspired by its applications in hospitals and clean rooms. This innovation significantly elevated air quality standards within farming spaces.
The year 2018 marked the birth of Seven Steps To Heaven, embodying our patented fusion: the laminar airflow technique and hybrid cooling of LED lights. This invention enabled precise temperature and evaporation control, allowing the application of proven logistic systems and robotics.
Blue Skies Ahead: Co-founding for a Sustainable Tomorrow
In 2020, we co-founded Blue Skies, establishing a state-of-the-art Pilot Farm and an R&D company in Helmond, The Netherlands. Blue Skies is dedicated to optimizing technology and advancing biological knowledge to expand the applications of indoor farming, enhance quality, and continuously reduce production costs. Our Pilot-Farm showcases on a large scale what we can achieve today. At Blue Skies, dozens of passionate colleagues engage in groundbreaking work, caring for the crops, maintaining, and optimizing the technology, and laying the scientific foundation for never-ending improvements in both the traits of the plants themselves and the environment in which they thrive and flourish.
Today, we lead globally not only in technology and biological knowledge of indoor farming but also in the understanding that we are at the beginning of something immense. We demonstrate that indoor farming is commercially viable today and strive to make it even better in the future.