Founder story: Nadun Hennayaka from Gaia Project
The Gaia Project founder story
Nadun Hennayaka was once a corporate IT professional. Now, he’s leading an agtech startup with a big vision for humanity, and a recent NASA award under its belt.
We’re fortunate to work with Nadun through our R&D Tax service. And we’re glad to bring you his story so far – a classic entrepreneurial tale of dedication and determination.
What is the Gaia Project?
Gaia is an old Greek word for ‘Earth’ so our project is the ‘Earth Project’. Our vision is to bring the relationship between humans and the biosphere back into balance.
Wow okay! So… what problem are you solving?
Ultimately: World food security.
The world’s population is increasing and traditional agriculture can’t keep up because it requires an unlimited amount of land, water, nutrients for fertiliser and so on.
Controlled environment agriculture – such as large-scale commercial greenhouses – goes some way to solving the problem but it requires a lot of energy (e.g. for artificial lighting) and water, too.
So we’re coming up with ways to minimise these inputs while maximising outputs.
Our main tech at the moment is a channel system that works inside commercial horticulture systems. Our tech enables more plants to grow in these systems, because the channels automatically expand/contract by length and width as the plants need them to without the need for expensive robotics or labour to move plants around.
What was your light bulb moment?
I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the world. My background is in corporate IT but I’ve always had a passion for engineering. I was working in renewable energy in South East Asia when I stumbled across the concept of vertical farming.
Then one day, I was using an old telescope – I’m an amateur star gazer – and I thought: Why can’t we use that principle in farming?
What happened next?
I quit my corporate IT job, cleaned up the house and built an indoor farm in it for testing. It was in Brunswick, Melbourne, and it was during COVID so luckily there weren’t any rental inspections!
My house was my workshop for two years. I came up with a new design and did R&D and patents.
What stage are you at now?
We’re all in! So far, it’s been going really well.
We bootstrapped for a while and have angel investors, and are currently raising seed funding to build the tech for our pipeline of global customers.
We’ve also built tech for NASA and were recently selected as one of three international teams to go through to the third and final round of NASA’s Deep Space Food Challenge.
How have we helped?
Standard Ledger has helped with a critical source of funding for us – the R&D Tax Incentive, which gives us a few months of runway every year.
The team has really understood our R&D story from day one, and have always had a plan for it. We’re in the third year of working together now, and it’s been really great.
What personal sacrifices have you made?
I’ve sacrificed a reliable salary and part of my soul 🙂 . I work on Gaia Project seven days a week.
I don’t know if I could do it again but I definitely have no regrets. It’s fine tuned now because we had to work on a really small budget. I’m happy with how everything is working out.
There’s always a price to pay – you can’t ask for fire without putting the wood in. For me, the corporate world was great but unless you really love your job, it’s hard to do for 30-40 years.
More founder stories
Thanks to Nadun for taking the time to share his story.
As always, we’re here to chat if you need help with your startup. Just choose a time that works for you.
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