Sam Cox, Architecture graduate, turned entrepreneur
Using aquaponics to grow food in urban spaces
The GrowUp Box is a community urban farm in Stratford, London, producing sustainable fish, salads and herbs from an up-cycled shipping container. The project engages, educates and inspires communities about sustainable food production and helps people make informed decisions about the food they buy and eat. As a business, GrowUp Community Farms is looking to build similar projects in other communities across London.
This new enterprise is a spin-off from GrowUp Urban Farms, which started four years ago. GrowUp Urban Farms is committed to feeding people in cities in a way that is positive for communities and the environment, today and in the future.
They produce sustainable fresh fish, salads and herbs in cities using a combination of aquaponic and vertical growing technologies. This lowers the environmental impact of agriculture by building and operating farms that use unused urban space to grow produce. Through the use of aquaponic technology and protected cropping, a year-round harvest of fresh, leafy vegetables and fish is produced and delivered to consumers in London.
It’s fantastic to see all the university’s hard work recognised by being named Entrepreneurial University of the Year, and there is no doubt that without the staff at LSBU supporting my passion for urban agriculture I simply would not have been able to test and develop so many of my ideas.
The GrowUp Box Concept
“I had worked in architects’ offices within the UK and India and always been interested in the symbiotic relationship between nature and society. As a result, I started working with two colleagues on the GrowUp Box in 2013,” says LSBU graduate Sam Cox.
“I saw a lot of potential for how aquaponic systems could be used as a tool for education and community engagement and helped design the GrowUp Box for GrowUp Urban Farms whilst studying Architecture at LSBU.”
Sam says he was motivated to become involved because within his studies at university he had always been fascinated by the positive social impacts of growing food in cities and so leapt at the opportunity to design the GrowUp Box to further explore this. From the success of the project he co-founded GrowUp Community Farms to deliver further aquaponics systems and accompanying educational programmes.
A day in the life of Sam Cox
Now that it has taken off, what does a typical day involve for Sam? “A working day can involve a combination of the usual business activities and desk work alongside the maybe not-so-usual such as feeding fish and harvesting produce. Overall, I love being able to do something that I care about. In terms of highlights so far, I always enjoy teaching children in London how produce can be grown in this way. Many of them don’t have a clue where food comes from beyond our supermarket shelves and they are always amazed to find out how it can be grown. We’ve had a number of people come visit us to find out more about what we do, and the royal visit from HRH Princess Anne was a real honour!”
Support from the student enterprise team
Sam’s journey has been assisted by LSBU’s Enterprise Team, who have provided support in the development of his ideas and given him access to a range of experienced mentors. “Examples of this have included access to first-rate business mentors from ChangeSchool as part of the Rocket Programme,” he says. “It’s brilliant to see all the university’s hard work recognised by being named Entrepreneurial University of the Year, and there is no doubt that without the staff at LSBU supporting my passion for urban agriculture I simply would not have been able to test and develop so many of my ideas.”
Advice for others with business ideas
With Sam’s business set to keep on growing, what advice would he give to other students or graduates looking to branch out on their own? “For me it’s really important that you do something you are passionate about, as it is this that gets you over any bumps in the road and makes the great times even greater.”