The Power of Plants - Talking Sustainability with Let it Grow, Silke Tijkotte

Amsterdam is getting greener and greener, but it still needs more awareness, understanding and support. That's where Let it Grow comes in. An interview with founder Silke Tijkotte.

Published by Robyn on 21/12/2016

At home, in the office, in your favourite cafe - it’s hard to go a day in Amsterdam without being exposed to some form of greenery. But what a lot of people don’t see is the hidden health benefits that flowers and plants can offer, alongside the technological advances that have our little green friends at their root. Plant entrepreneur, Silke Tijkotte explains, “the urban green movement has started already, but we want to accelerate that movement”, and that’s exactly what she is striving for with Let it Grow

A City Made By People Amsterdam Let it Grow

Artist Elpeth Diederix - image courtesy Marie Wanders.

As I sit down with Silke, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I once managed to kill a cactus. The arms literally just fell off one day. The only time my fingers are green is when I’m putting up the Christmas tree, and let’s face it, even then they’re really just wrapped around a pint, sorry mug, of mulled wine. She jokes, “last weekend I was restyling my bedroom, and I realised that I have about 15 plants in that room alone!” 

The days of flowers and plants being a panicked gesture from an unapologetic ex-boyfriend are over. Let it Grow is not only making greenfingers cool again, but there’s a bigger mission involving artists, startups, and innovators. Can you tell us more about it?

Of course! Let it Grow actually does two things. On the one hand, we communicate the value of flowers and plants - a lot of people don’t realise the impact they can have on their health and wellbeing.

The second thing we do is help entrepreneurs in the floriculture sector to grow. We support new initiatives, startups, idealists, and artists who have a concept revolving around flowers and plants. We believe that if they grow, the market for flowers and plants grows with them, and, as a result, people’s perspectives will begin to change.

“After coffee and superfoods, maybe plants will be the next trend.”

As cities continue to evolve, the old-fashioned plant shops and stalls are struggling to meet new demands. Yes, they can sustain their local neighbourhood market but the younger people - the early adopters and innovators - often don’t visit these shops. And since they are the trendsetters in society, we need new channels to reach them. 

Working with flowers and plants your whole life and consulting at the flower auction, you’ve seen the market significantly decrease. But, instead of giving up, you saw a chance for positive change. Can you elaborate?

There’s all kinds of social issues in city centres, such as increased stress levels and overpopulation - and I know that flowers and plants can contribute to solving these problems. However, the supply was not there in the market. Cities were in need of solutions and the floriculture sector was in need of more market opportunities. And I just thought, this fits. 

But, it’s bigger than just placing more plants and florist shops in the city, if we can help entrepreneurs who are setting up all different kinds of companies we’ll make a bigger impact. And that’s the strategy behind Let it Grow. We believe if you go back to the root of the problem, you can change your way of looking at it and instead focus on the value of the product.

A City Made By People Amsterdam Let it Grow

Founder Silke Tijkotte - image courtesy Valentina Vos.

You just launched your very first Incubation Programme with a mission to facilitate green innovations that work with flowers and plants to improve city living. Can you tell us a bit about the process and the projects it will oversee?

Sure, on May 10th we did an ‘open innovation call’ worldwide, and we received more than 130 applicants from 8 different countries! We invited 21 initiatives to come to Amsterdam for a selection event where we had a jury made up of people from both the startup and floriculture scene, including Harry van Dorenmalen, CEO of IBM - so there was a really great mix of knowledge and expertise. This jury then selected 7 initiatives from the applicants as winners and they are now our first class in the Incubation Programme!

Class 1 started on the 24th October, we meet twice a week and each initiative has their own mentor. Two of the companies were already based in Amsterdam, Wildernis - who want to scale up their business by really building a brand - and Sprinklr - a seasonal box with plants from organic growers. You buy a box and they deliver it to your home by bike, they also offer an accompanying app which explains how to best care for the plants you receive. 

We want Amsterdam to be the home base of Let it Grow and from here these companies can then grow all over the world - that’s my mission! 

“In Amsterdam, there’s the opportunity to reach almost every kind of market within one city. Plus, people are also very open to change here and they aren’t afraid to give feedback.”

Amsterdam is famed for its successful startup culture, do you think this has played a role in your success so far?

Yes, Amsterdam has an extremely stimulating environment for startups. I am part of the Amsterdam Economic Board which is connected to Startup Amsterdam, and I can see the sheer number of startups in Amsterdam. In the beginning of 2016 there were around 1800 startups yet only 5 working with flowers and plants! 

A City Made By People Amsterdam Let it Grow

Team Wildernis - image courtesy Marie Wanders.

What are some of the innovative ways you’ve seen plants merge with new technologies around the world? 

A really good example of this is Living Light. They’re also part of our Incubation Programme and they make electricity using plants! The concept combines green technology with product design to produce these beautiful lamps that harvest energy through bacteria in the soil. With Living Light there’s the opportunity to bring a new source of energy to people’s homes and hopefully within 10 years we can all have light given by plants, purely through the process of photosynthesis.

In terms of around the world, I think Singapore is doing exceptionally well with using plants to solve city problems, such as health issues and pollution.They’re doing some really innovative things and I think we should keep an eye on what they come up with and bring it back to the market here.

A City Made By People Amsterdam Let it Grow

Let it Grow Lab - image courtesy Maarten Nauw.

What’s your favourite green area in Amsterdam? 

At the moment, it’s the office of Let it Grow! It’s extremely green and we’ve given it a futuristic twist with some neon lights - it’s really nice! 

And by night, I like to have a walk in Vondelpark. Nature in the city centre is so important, it helps me every night by giving me the chance to reflect on the day amongst nature, while still being in the city centre. 

And finally, where can you see opportunity for improvement in Amsterdam?

In term of improvements, I think we can look to schools. Primary schools, Secondary schools, and Universities are really grey and it’s actually been proven that greenery can increase both the productivity and wellbeing of students. So hopefully, schools will see the value of investing in plants and flowers and see the difference in the results - happier, healthier, and more productive students. 

A City Made By People Amsterdam Let it Grow

Artist Elpeth Diederix - image courtesy Marie Wanders.

A big thank you to Silke for sharing the story of Let it Grow, visit their website to find out more about the inspiring work they do or to explore the initiatives taking part in their first Incubation Programme

Words by Robyn Collinge

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