Helping the World Grow Smarter: Fluence Bioengineering, Inc.
Fluence Bioengineering, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of OSRAM, creates the most powerful and energy-efficient LED lighting solutions for commercial crop production and research applications. Fluence is a leading LED lighting supplier in the global cannabis market and is committed to enabling more efficient crop production with the world’s top vertical farms and greenhouse produce growers. INews chatted with Fluence CEO David Cohen about the company’s roots, challenges in the sector, and, of course, lighting.
When and where did the company begin?
Fluence was founded in Austin, Texas, in 2013 by forward-thinking entrepreneurs Nick Klase and Randy Johnson. The company sought to create tailored lighting solutions for horticulture applications, and after launching the SPYDR 1200 Series in its earliest days, amassed widespread industry recognition as a groundbreaking provider of LED solutions.
What were the startup years like?
With a desire to bring innovation to the market, Klase and Johnson were the first to introduce white light that mimics sunlight. This was a clear differentiator in the horticulture lighting sector, expanding product offerings and the collective understanding of photobiology. The solutions Fluence launched were a stark departure from the inefficient lighting systems cultivators previously relied on.
Fluence lights used less energy, lasted longer, and ran cooler, enabling tiered setups that multiplied indoor grow spaces while achieving impressive savings in energy, HVAC, and water costs. In its early days — starting with a lean team of 12 that included engineers, plant scientists, and growers — Fluence hired staff directly from the industry to provide consultative services to the fast-growing cannabis industry. With its roots in science, the company also sought to provide leading research to an industry desperate for knowledge and best practices.
How did you gain market share and recognition?
In 2014, the company branched out from the research space and began designing systems that could lead to more sustainable forms of crop production. The result was a diverse product portfolio that allowed the world’s largest greenhouses and indoor farms to move away from wasteful legacy lighting to the quality, output, and reduced footprint realized by LED grow lights. In 2016, Fluence published its first innovator spotlight, highlighting the success of its SPYDRx Plus solution. The company also published success stories from its commercial crop portfolio and established an early academic partnership with Princeton University to measure the impact of climate change on plant ecosystems.
While LED lighting systems are quickly becoming the standard in commercial cannabis production, it has not always been the case. Fluence has worked directly with growers and leading researchers to create an ecosystem of best practices, success stories, and cultivation guides to reinforce the viability of LED lighting for cannabis.
Has your company moved or expanded since the beginning?
In 2018, Fluence was acquired by the Munich-based lighting manufacturer OSRAM. By combining Fluence’s proven leadership in LED-based horticulture lighting systems with OSRAM’s expertise in lighting technologies, sensors, and connectivity, Fluence is today empowering cultivators worldwide to increase their output and quality, while achieving new margins and profits. Since the acquisition, Fluence has grown its employee base to more than 130 staff members globally, established its EMEA headquarters in Rotterdam, Netherlands, appointed key leaders in horticulture lighting and design, installed fixtures across approximately 1.7 million square feet of cannabis canopy, and welcomed dozens of indoor, greenhouse, and vertical growers into its portfolio.
What is your current product line?
We currently produce our SPYDR Series for Indoor grows and vertical farms, VYPR Series for greenhouses and high-bay indoor cultivation, RAZR Series for large indoor and vertical farm operations, and our RAY Series which are versatile for any grow applications.
Where do you distribute?
Fluence distributes its solutions to growers in more than 35 countries. The company serves both cannabis and commercial crop growers in the US and throughout the globe.
How many people now work for the company?
Fluence employs more than 130 people globally.
What are your company’s strengths?
Since the company’s earliest days, its mission has been to improve the interaction between light and life to yield a healthier and more sustainable world. Ask anyone at the company: Fluence doesn’t just manufacture lights. Fluence delivers state-of-the-art, science-backed solutions and facility design best practices backed by an impressive pedigree of cultivation expertise. Fluence cultivation experts partner directly with growers to optimize facilities and ensure success not only when deploying LED systems, but in building a sustainable operation that delivers high-quality products to customers.
Whether serving customers like Bowery Farming — they grow fresh produce in areas that otherwise wouldn’t have access — or the hundreds of cannabis cultivators serving patients with a variety of ailments throughout the world, Fluence designs lighting solutions that simply make the world better.
What are some of your proudest moments?
Some of our proudest moments include:
- Establishing Fluence’s annual PHOTOx Summit. PHOTOx is an intimate forum through which a community of growers, researchers, and technologists can foster connections, share knowledge and experiences, engage with Fluence experts and advocates, and ultimately advance our understanding of the interaction between light and life. PHOTOx draws the best and brightest minds in commercial horticulture from around the world to engage in day-long knowledge sharing sessions. Notable summit guests include leading researchers in photobiology, sensory science, medicinal cannabis applications, facility design and engineering, and more.
- The DesignLights Consortium has certified more Fluence fixtures than any other horticultural lighting provider on the market.
- Helping growers achieve more than $7 million in savings via utility incentives throughout the US and Canada.
- Adding critical expertise in cannabis cultivation and research to the Fluence team, including Dave Hawley, Ph.D., as Fluence’s senior scientist, and Sean Sangster — former cultivation manager for MedMen and head grower for Costa Farms — as a project manager within Fluence’s horticulture services team.
- Growing Fluence’s senior leadership team to include several of the world’s foremost horticulture experts, including Ron DeKok and Abhay Thosar.
- Establishing critical research relationships with leading global horticulture scientists, including Wageningen University & Research.
- Watching Fluence solutions and its growers win acclaimed awards for programs such as the Cultivation Classic, the Canadian Cannabis Awards, LEDs Magazine’s Sapphire Awards, and more.
What significant things have you learned so far about the industry?
The cannabis industry’s incredible rise has yielded prosperity, relief, and seemingly endless opportunity for customers and growers. However, as the industry continues gaining traction as a legitimate industry, a new set of obstacles will form — impacting how growers, investors, manufacturers, and more will sustain the industry’s rapid growth. A natural, fruitful gap is forming in how cultivators operate their facilities:
- The best, most informed cultivators are enhancing the quality of their plants, yielding better, more nuanced products — ultimately nurturing a more refined taste among consumers.
- Cultivators are facing increasing capital constraints.
- The operational philosophy of cannabis cultivation is shifting from “grow fast” to “grow smart”: Industry leaders are releasing best practices, investing heavily in research and striving to standardize a largely unregulated industry.
The cannabis industry does not have a singular governing body to inform standards, issue best practices, or publish peer-reviewed research. In lieu of that governing body, Fluence aims to become the most informed partner to cultivators.
The company isn’t just here to sell lights. By enabling customers with the best technology and methodologies for cultivation, Fluence helps them bring the highest quality food and medicine to the world. With more than 350 global cannabis customers, Fluence has determined best practices for cannabis cultivation that yield:
- Faster production cycles (1.5 more cycles per year).
- Enhanced crop uniformity.
- A better expression of the plant (increased cannabinoid and terpene production).
- Improved sustainable facility design (conserving 40% energy in comparison to high-pressure sodium systems).
What words of wisdom can you share about the business, the industry, or future of the industry?
At Fluence’s 2019 PHOTOx Summit, cannabis cultivators, researchers, and scientists were abundantly clear: The cannabis industry will only move forward if rooted in research and development. In partnership with other cannabis industry leaders, we can reshape how cannabis is grown, consumed and perceived.
Read also: Feeding Space Travelers
We'll discover new applications for medicine, provide consumers more information and choice than they've ever had and find innovative ways to maximize the expression of the cannabis plant. And we'll do it through smart, sustainable technology and cultivation operations.
Share your favorite story from a day on the job.
Any day spent with a customer.
What makes your employees so awesome? How does your team bond?
Fluence employees embody our mission and exemplify our company values every day. We work in an incredibly fast-paced industry, which requires us to collaborate, think differently, and bring the best solutions to our customers. Many Fluence employees have also been growers — some owning and operating their own and others acting as directors of cultivation in multiple facilities — helping them to directly relate to the customers we serve. I’ve seen employees work through holidays to meet critical customer needs, strategize on major company initiatives that could literally change how the world grows food, and converse with growers with the utmost care and concern for their facilities, their products and their patients.
Fluence’s core values are:
- Curiosity: Fuse research and expertise to foster innovation.
- Integrity: Commit to being a courageous, trusted leader.
- Service: Listen and empower customer success.
- Passion: Champion a team spirit that thrives with change.
Does your company participate in any community service?
Fluence regularly donates PHOTOx registration fees to local nonprofits who serve in the food, horticulture research, or science spaces. Previous recipients have included Plant Chicago, a food incubator. Fluence is also currently working on a number of exciting community initiatives.