This conversation with David Farquhar is Part 2 of my ‘Sustainable Future Initiatives’ series. David is truly a serial entrepreneur who came out of retirement to head up ‘Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS).

It started with a phone call in 2017…  “David, would you like to see my dad’s R&D Project, it is a vertical farm.”  After some initial reluctance, he went to visit the project.

“It totally blew my mind, it sits at the nexus of food and environment. Its feed the world and will do it sustainably.”

Why Vertical Farming Is Important

To give you a bit of background about why I wanted David on the show. The population of the world is growing and is expected to hit 8 to 9 billion by 2050. What with climate change and other factors reducing our capacity. Food production will be the next challenge going forward.

Over the next 50 years, the world will need 30% more food, using less water and less land.

David has always been passionate about food and the environment, and IGS ticks all of the boxes. The IGS has come a long way in those 3 years, surviving  COVID and now employs over 100 people.  During COP26 they were able to announce Series B funding, taking the business to $58m.

Vertical farming is about growing food indoors under controlled conditions and it promises to deliver real food and real change for people in the most difficult places of the world.

I caught up with him just before COP, he was on-site at IGS in a polytunnel and we were speaking through both noise from heavy rain and connection issues.

An Outsider’s Route To Success

David tells me his successful career has its roots in his complete failure to achieve anything at school. As a youngster, he moved from Aberdeen to Essex, and was the only Scots child in a large English comprehensive school, and he always felt like an outsider.

“My mother took the school uniform requirement literally. I was the only child to turn up on the first day in shorts and a school cap. It was within about 10 minutes when I had my first fight.

Rugby was his saviour, he became captain of the team and learnt what it means to be in a leadership role. But he left school without qualifications and went on to Catering College where he discovered a love of food.

However, this passion did not encompass a love for passing exams, which meant he also flunked catering college. With no options left, he went into the military and, as luck would have it, was offered a place at Sandhurst Officer Training School. He must have impressed the recruitment guy, because Sandhurst is not a place you get into that easily.

Those 8 years in the services helped him develop skills in resilience, project planning and management. Upon leaving the military his next move was to go into Environmental Consultancy.

Luck or Providence?

However, now married with a young child, his life hit a difficult personal change so he moved back to Scotland. This is when his life really shifted.

Working with The Glasgow Development Agency, an opportunity landed on his desk that was too good to pass. It was before the internet really took off and yet here he was at the forefront of some new technology in online accountancy.

He built and sold that business within 3 years and went on to become CEO of multiple businesses both in the software and technology industries. Over 25 plus years he has built or invested in 20 companies, sold 13 and had the hard-won experience of losing three, at one point he lost it all and started again from scratch. 

Building A Sustainable Future

This is an amazing story of resilience, risk and just getting things done. Much of it is down to David’s ability to lead people and bring out their best qualities. It’s about getting them to do stuff they didn’t know they could. But it is also about his capacity to build relationships and create networks across industries and countries.

The vertical farming project “Intelligent Growth Solutions” found David and he came out of retirement in order to be part of it. Listening to him speak, it is clearly his passion and I think it will be his life’s work. It is most certainly work that supports future sustainability.

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