Pure Harvest’s commitment to enabling high-quality, local food production won the company Start-up Business of the Year at the 2019 Gulf Capital SME Awards

 

One of the most critical lessons to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the fragility of international supply chains and the need to reduce the region’s vulnerability to unexpected disruptions, especially in the area of food security.

In a region that is characterised by its arid desert climate and lack of agricultural land, food security has long been a high priority for government policy makers.

To achieve this, the UAE is seeking to increase its local food production capacity in order to reduce its dependence on food imports. One solution is the adoption of innovative agricultural technology that will support high-volume food production, even in such adverse conditions.

In 2018, three young entrepreneurs saw this as a prime business opportunity and launched Pure Harvest Smart Farms, an Abu Dhabi-based farming technology provider whose mission is to invest in world-leading controlled-environment agriculture technologies to deliver customers the best quality produce.

In recognition of its drive and vision, the company was named 2019 Start-up Business of the Year, and business co-founder, Sky Kurtz, received the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year at the Gulf Capital SME Awards, held in partnership with MEED.

Judges commended Pure Harvest’s sustainability credentials, and its commitment to boosting local food security.

Dr Karim El Solh, co-founder and CEO of UAE-based alternative asset management firm Gulf Capital says, “We are pleased to recognise and celebrate the achievements of an SME that is displaying world-class capabilities by being champions of growth and innovation.”

Supporting growth

The company founders – Sky Kurtz, Robert Kupstas and Mahmoud Adi - met through the Stanford Alumni Network and together saw the opportunity for climate-controlled hybrid growing systems in the UAE’s arid climate.

“We believe that all of the ‘raw materials’ needed for large-scale success and achievement are available in the UAE and importantly instead of fighting the government to pioneer Agtech, the government is fighting for us,” says Kurtz.

Being part of the growing food tech industry in the UAE means being part of an ecosystem supported by the government. Last year, Abu Dhabi Investment Office invested in Pure Harvest as part of a USD $41m investment in innovative food technologies.

“The UAE is helping us to achieve our goals and I can’t think of a more supportive location,” says Kurtz. “Pure Harvest is humbled to be part of a visionary country that has proven its ability to reinvent itself and to build big things. The UAE has ambitious visions, does the work and makes the necessary investment to achieve its future state of the world.”

In March 2021, Pure Harvest Smart Farms secured $60 million in growth funding to support regional expansion in a first-of-its-kind USD $50 million structured Sukuk financing solution. It was led by inventive financing partners keen to invest in food security and sustainability. Sukuk is complemented by a simultaneous $10 million incremental growth equity raise.

Journey to success

This level of investment indicates that the business concept of Pure Harvest is recognised and understood, but this has not always been the case.

“When you are pioneering you have got to forge everything, work with the regulators and change laws, work with the retailers and change their perception, you're going to work with the consumers and change theirs also,” says Kurtz.

“Once you're in and you've gone through that, you're battle hardened and you're ready to build and we've learned a lot from those mistakes and challenges and I think that now, after going through all that, we're well positioned to build a really exciting and an impactful company.”

 

On 24 November 2021, the Gulf Capital SME AWARDS 2021 in partnership with MEED will recognise and celebrate the best small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UAE. The programme has attracted 1,922 total entries from 1,209 participating companies​, and has recognised 553 finalists​ and 350 winners​ across 17 categories​ with one unifying purpose – to accelerate and enable innovation in the economy’s most vital sector.