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The global focus on plant-based diets, climate change and the overall healthcare revolution combined with award-winning innovation, has Kiwi company Bluelab poised for more international growth.

The company produces state-of-the art monitoring and control equipment for hydroponic and commercial plant growers worldwide to measure pH, conductivity, moisture and temperature to ‘enable the art of growing’. Their technology supports better decision-making, speeds up operations and provides greater insight into plant health.

The Tauranga-based company just won the coveted ‘Excellence in Innovation’ category at the New Zealand International Business Awards. The judges praised the innovation culture Bluelab has developed among their team.

Greg Jarvis, CEO of Bluelab, says fostering the right mindset and culture within their company has been the key to their success of winning their latest innovation award.

“Innovation involves the whole team. It’s rare for any one person to have all the good ideas so you have to harness the power of a team’s collective knowledge to come together and create impact,” says Jarvis.

He says Bluelab is perfectly positioned to benefit from major international trends such as crops being grown under cover, plant-based diets on the rise and plant derivatives being used to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems – textiles, plastics, chemicals and even meat.

“We believe that through our technology, the controlled growing systems Bluelab work in, the results when the potential in plants is unlocked, and the impact on people, we are contributing towards a healthier world. Our goal is to be part of that story and to be recognised on a global stage as one of New Zealand’s great tech companies.”

Jono Jones, Head of Innovation & Strategy at Bluelab, says innovation starts with the environment you’re working in – “you need to make your team feel comfortable with taking calculated risks.  When you’re innovating, you’re moving into the unknown and you need a mindset that feels comfortable in the uncomfortable – when you start you don’t have all the answers so you need to build a culture of courage to make those bold decisions.”

“Innovation is a nebulous idea but “we can all train our creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication muscles,” says Jones.

Design Thinking is one of the methodologies used to underpin the innovation process at Bluelab.

“It’s a human-centred design methodology that puts people (customers, stakeholders and employees) at the centre of a design process where you start with deeply understanding their needs then quickly prototyping and testing ideas with them to explore and refine solutions. We use it extensively in product development but also increasingly on internal projects with the team around engagement,” says Jones.

Bluelab’s accessible, robust and reliable handheld measurement meters remain the best-selling product. “We’ve generated amazing loyalty amongst our customers through a focussed product-line built around growers’ needs which makes us unique.

“We are currently doing lots of creative work in the connected device space to help growers in controlled environments like greenhouses and nurseries. We aim to replicate our success in the US and become the grower’s tool of choice worldwide,” says Jones.

The company currently employ 48 staff in Tauranga with an additional 14 people based in the US and Europe. While the business is over 30 years old, it has exploded into the US, Canadian, UK, Spanish, The Netherlands and Australian markets in recent years and 99% of sales are now export.  

In addition to their recent win at the New Zealand International Business Awards, Bluelab also won the Excellence in Innovation category in the BOP Export NZ Awards in June. They were finalists in two categories of this year’s NZ Hi-Tech Awards – hardware and agritech – and recently placed seventh in the Scale-Up category at the Technology Investment Network (TIN) Awards.

Pictured: Jono Jones (left) with Greg Jarvis.

Glenn Baker

Professional writer/editor with 35-plus years experience - including radio copywriting, various television writing/production roles, and writing for business magazines. I have also co-owned a wholesale food distribution business.

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