RICHMOND — A Charlottesville-based startup company that makes indoor, hydroponic farming systems is moving its headquarters to Richmond, with plans to hire 24 people over the next few years.
Babylon Micro-Farms has rented a 7,700-square-foot office in Richmond’s Scott’s Addition neighborhood to serve as its headquarters and as a research and development facility, the company said Wednesday.
“Richmond was an obvious choice as we outgrew our space in Charlottesville and decided where to relocate,” Alexender Olesen, the company’s co-founder and CEO, said in a statement. “It is a vibrant, growing city with a great tech community and the talent pool we need as we expand.”
The company plans to invest $140,000 in the facility, Gov. Ralph Northam’s office said.
Co-founded in 2017 by Oleson and fellow University of Virginia student Graham Smith as part of a project to provide low-cost micro-farming for food-insecure refugees, Babylon Micro-Farms makes indoor farming units that can be remotely controlled to grow fresh herbs, vegetables and salad greens.
The company started by installing some of its indoor farming units in restaurants, but when the COVID-19 pandemic struck Virginia and forced restaurants to close, it shifted its business model to install its farming units in senior living and retirement communities. It has installed 36 of its indoor farms so far and is expecting to install 150 in 2021.
For instance, one of its largest customers is Commonwealth Senior Living, which plans to add Babylon Micro-Farms systems at 34 of its senior living communities in Virginia.
The company now has 23 employees and is planning to add 24 jobs over the next few years as it rolls out those new units. The jobs will include engineers, software developers and technicians who do assembly of units, a spokeswoman said.
The company is a graduate of the Richmond-based business startup accelerator program Lighthouse Labs.
Late in 2019, Babylon Micro-Farms raised $2.3 million in funding mostly from investors, but the capital raise also included a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct research on its systems, along with a $50,000 grant from Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology.
Northam’s office said Virginia competed with Arizona and California for the headquarters office relocation project.
Babylon Micro-Farms is eligible to receive state benefits from the Virginia Enterprise Zone Program, administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. Funding and services to support the company’s employee training activities will be provided through the Virginia Jobs Investment Program.
“Richmond has proven to be fertile ground for innovative companies, and Babylon Micro-Farms’ environmentally friendly, technology-driven, indoor farming methods provide healthy food options for many people,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said in a statement. “We’re excited to welcome them to Richmond and look forward to the company growing its product and its presence in our city.”