City economy

Come take a look into Sydney’s future at 2050 Emergent

2050 Emergent is a free expo of new technologies, initiatives and ideas shaping our city.


Supported by the City of Sydney, the Spark Festival event will be held at Lower Town Hall, Sydney Town Hall on Saturday 19 October from 10am-4pm.

Showcasing more than 30 startups, the one-off event will feature 50 displays and 20 presentations on topics including green cities, alternative housing models and the sharing economy.

We caught up with exhibitor Ben Lee, a founder and CEO of agritech startup, InvertiGro. Ben will be giving a talk on food systems of the future at 2050 Emergent.

Tell us about your agritech business

Invertigro is a flexible indoor vertical farming solution for the sustainable production of fresh and healthy produce.

We can set up in warehouses, basements and carparks – anywhere there’s redundant space. We tailor programs to different plant varieties and use new light technology to allow plants to reach optimal condition.

Plants are grown in rockwool, which is spun lava that has no contamination. You can grow fresher, more nutritious produce year round that’s better than organic.

What role do you see for indoor farming in Sydney’s future?

By 2050, urban areas will be home to 70% of the world’s population, putting a lot of strain on resources.

Food systems of the future will need to be more adaptive to our needs. Indoor vertical farming is now seen as futuristic technology, but it will become common place.

It allows food to be grown closer to home, rather than in rural areas and transported tens of thousands of miles around the world as currently happens.

This relieves pressure on the transport and waste streams generated in traditional agriculture.

Are businesses getting excited about this new technology?

We’re seeing a lot of demand in the food service industry reacting to consumer demand for locally grown produce.

We’re getting requests from different industries, such as phytochemical companies, medicinal plants and traditional Chinese herbs and medicines.

We’re working with vineyards to help cultivate new varietals, helping a lavender farm keep up supply in the off season and working with a perfume company to develop flowers for their fragrances.

Australia has traditionally been the food bowl for Asia. By bringing together all that knowledge, innovative technology and the local support for startups, I really see Australia becoming a world leader in agritech.

You’re from England originally and set up your business here via a stint in Singapore. How are you enjoying Sydney?

In 2017 co-founder Paul Millett and I took the leap and moved to Sydney. In 2018 we were accepted into the Cicada Innovations GrowLab accelerator program where we went through intensive market-focused development and rebranding.

We’re still based at the Eveleigh co-working space and we’re now a team of 16, with engineers, egronomists, a technology team, phd students, interns and a sales team.

The support we’ve received has been amazing. The startup and research landscape here is great. And I’m loving Sydney – it’s such a liveable place and such a pretty city.

Emergent 2050 is a Spark Festival event. It will be held at Lower Town Hall, Sydney Town Hall on Saturday 19 October from 10am-4pm.

Published 1 October 2019, updated 14 February 2024