On 2 April, student teams of Universities around the world consulted experts on how to design a greenhouse integrated in the city of Dongguan, China: an urban greenhouse.
This first ever online speed date session of the Urban Greenhouse Challenge was a big success according to the coaches (see previous news item). But were the students just as enthusiastic? Camilla Grande Degaspari of team USP shared her experiences via a call from Brazil.
What is the focus of your urban greenhouse concept?
“We want to find a way to produce a large amount of food in a sustainable way. With every step of the process we try to remember that we are designing a greenhouse in China: a country that is very rich in culture. And we need to remember that it is very different from the culture we have in Brazil.”
Did you choose your own coaches for the speed dates?
“Yes, teams have the opportunity to indicate the coaches of their choice. We selected coaches from different fields of expertise. For example, we had our mind set on at least one coach living in China, because we wanted to learn more about the culture and the eating, drinking and living habits of the Chinese people. The next coach we selected was an expert in technical aspects of greenhouse horticulture. In total, we selected six diverse coaches. Luckily, we were indeed grouped with the coaches of our choosing.”
How did you experience the online speed dates?
“Of course we would have preferred going to China and see the city Dongguan and have the speed dates face-to-face, but even from my laptop at home the sessions were amazing. We really bombarded our coaches with questions and we gained a great deal of new knowledge. As soon as the speed dates were over, me and my team mates turned to each other and agreed to have an elaborate team meeting the next day. To discuss about the sessions and reflect on all this new information and ideas.”
You talked to six coaches, were all sessions similar?
“Each coach had his or her own approach. Some used our questions as a guideline for the meeting and discussed them point by point. Others grabbed the general topic of a question and suggested to discuss about it more casually. I personally liked the last option better. It allowed us to have a more natural conversation with the coach.”
Which session was most valuable for your project?
“Our team consists of students with expertise in agronomy and architecture, so we do not have much knowledge about the business side of things. Therefore the speed date with the business coach was really helpful. He knew our project very well and looked critically at each step. With each aspect he asked us whether our way would be the best way. Like that, he was skilled at finding flaws in our project and making us see them too. We took a lot of information away from that meeting.”
Where there any answers not to your liking?
“Our idea is to use more sunlight in the greenhouse, so we can reduce the artificial light and thus the energy input. One of the coaches told us that it won’t be possible in our urban greenhouse, because the building is too big. That was disappointing to hear. But we are not completely letting go of this idea for the moment. We will try to come up with a way where we will use sunlight in addition to artificial light.”
How will your team proceed after the speed dates?
“Tomorrow, we will reflect on everything we learned today and decide which direction to head for in our project. Taking the advice of the coaches into account, I do believe that we will decide to go in a different direction than anticipated.”