Is the Grass Greener in Saudi? A Conversation with Natufia

Natufia is a food-tech startup that decided to leave its home, Estonia, and relocate to the emerging tech empire that Saudi Arabia is quickly turning into.
Is the Grass Greener in Saudi? A Conversation with Natufia

Founded in 2016, Natufia Labs goes beyond farm-to-fork, providing herbs and plants from kitchen-to-table. The Natufia Kitchen Garden is a household product that also answers many chefs’ needs, particularly regarding the difficulty of sourcing sustainable, high-quality products. 

Back in February, the food-tech startup Natufia announced an investment of $3.5 million in a first Series A funding round which would finance its move to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

Natufia relocated to Saudi Arabia last month, basing itself at the KAUST Research and Technology Park (KRTP) to help grow its R&D. We spoke with Gregory Lu, CEO and founder of Natufia, about the move to Saudi Arabia, the recent financing round, the company’s goals and plans for the future. 

“In 2018, we spent a lot of time in GCC as Natufia took part in the Dubai Techstars programme. We love the region and saw huge potential,” said Gregory. When the founders were looking for Natufia’s next funding round, they were approached by KAUST and they immediately felt it was 

the right fit. “being in KSA gives us access to the largest region in the market that is in full bloom with the 2030 vision,” he added. “The entrepreneurial environment is picking up in the Middle East with a great vision for the upcoming years and being open with the opportunities to join the movement,” said Gregory Lu. 

Gregory Lu is an entrepreneur whose background has been mostly in real estate, building commercial and residential properties such as hotels, shopping malls, luxury houses, tourist complexes. A decade ago, he bought an olive plantation in Sicily and that was the root of his involvement in the food business. “What I discovered very quickly about our food production system was alarming,” he said; The chemicals, the waste, the pollution, and all the derivatives of the current food chain system raised a big question about the compromise on providing the sustainable solution.

“So as an entrepreneur you’d like to solve problems and the bigger the problem is the more challenging and interesting it becomes. So that is how it started to take shape; thinking about the hotels and houses I built in the past, if they could have their own private food production system now… and this is how Natufia was born.” 

Gregory Lu, CEO and Founder, Natufia

The biggest challenge is that Natufia is still a very new concept in the market therefore needs to be understood and adapted. “It is very much like something from the future that you see in science fiction movies that has already landed here… like a self-driving car, here we have a self-growing food machine,” Gregory explained. This highlights how important it was to understand the user interaction with Natufia at the outset, so that the design and functionality reflects the needs of the users. This meant a lot of time and resource spent on customer interaction and prototype alteration to account for the viability of the final product. As a result, the technical aspect proved challenging but rewarding: with over 20 patents developed over the course of time and plentiful of invaluable feedback, the latest Natufia units are the reflection of the true state of the art technology breakthrough in the emerging hydroponic markets.

Interview conducted by Fatma Haroun

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