Youth Entrepreneur of the Year 2023: Agtech entrepreneur Ishaan Kohli grows SkyAcres to new heights

The Surrey firm's vertical farming device creates the best-case-scenario for growing produce

“We’re creating the perfect day, every single day,” says Ishaan Kohli. That sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s a literal analysis of SkyAcres’ work: the Surrey-based agtech firm has made a vertical farming device that mimics an ideal growing environment for fruits and veggies. “From strawberries to bell peppers to herbs, we can grow everything you need for a well-balanced diet in any kind of underutilized space,” says Kohli.

SkyAcres launched in 2021 and began full-time operations in mid-2022, but the company has already made a serious impact on some of the province’s most under-resourced communities. Inspired by SkyAcres’ chief strategy officer Zaffia Laplante (an Indigenous entrepreneur), Kohli focused his pilot project on an Indigenous community in Northern B.C. “We grew fresh fruits and vegetables inside of a grocery store,” explains Kohli, “and we were able to reduce the cost of fresh produce by up to 76 percent.”

Working in agriculture wasn’t in Kohli’s initial plan: he started his career in the medical technology industry and began developing a project that would deliver medicine to cancer patients using a mist. But as natural disaster struck, a natural solution followed. “The B.C. floods, heat waves and Arctic winds happened, and suddenly it clicked for me—maybe instead of delivering medicine, I could use the same technology to deliver nutrients and water to the roots of plants,” says Kohli. SkyAcres’ tech suspends the plants inside a chamber that is full of mist and nutrients, allowing the plants to thrive while using minimal resources and minimal square footage.

“We’re not only lowering the cost of fresh food, but also improving the health and well-being of the community—because, traditionally, processed foods are the only affordable option,” says Kohli. Things continue to look up at SkyAcres: the company recently pivoted to a new, franchise-like business model so that other folks can start vertical farms of their own.