The vegetable that is about to take over your plate surprisingly grows in the middle of the city.
Are you eating enough vegetables on a daily basis? Dr. Tsipi Shoham left a career as a cancer researcher and founded a start-up that may revolutionize our diet and change the way we consume vegetables in the future
Are you eating enough green vegetables in your daily diet? A startup called GreenOnyx was founded for this very purpose - to encourage people to eat healthier and obtain all the vitamins and nutrients that are essential to their health in an accessible, tasty, and enjoyable way. With a unique vegetable they found in Thailand, they hope to change the way we consume vegetables in the future.
Dr. Tsipi Shoham, who had a successful academic career in cancer research, decided she wanted to change direction. She made the transition to the private market and founded a company with the goal of protecting our health before severe illnesses occur. "After serving in Unit 8200, I realized that my passion lies not only in technology but also in the riddle of life. This has led me to the medical research field. The research fulfilled my scientific curiosity and desire for an intellectual challenge as well as the significant meaning of making a difference for others," Dr. Tsipi recounts. Driven by this passion, she began her academic journey as a cancer researcher.
She achieved almost every milestone in her field. From studying at Stanford University to working at Tel Hashomer Hospital. But then she realized something was missing, and it was time to embark on a new path. "When you spend days and months in oncology departments, a strong desire emerges to do more for the patients and their families. It's a very challenging journey, and naturally, researchers encounter the most difficult cases," she shares. "I've always been looking for what more can be done and how to have a greater impact."
Her quest for finding solutions to severe diseases led her to the field of nutrition. "I was exposed to groundbreaking studies that established the connection between nutrition and cancer prevention. Over time, it became apparent that it's not just cancer, but also heart diseases, Alzheimer's, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and even infectious diseases," she explains. "The connection comes from the fact that the right food brings into our bodies essential players that our defense systems need. If we don't nourish ourselves with proper nutrition, we won't maximize the potential of our defense systems, and it directly leads to earlier and more severe development of dangerous diseases. The correlation between proper eating and premature death has been proven beyond any doubt."
After all the complex research you conducted throughout your professional life, in the end, does it simply come down to the straightforward conclusion that we need to eat more vegetables and fruits?
"Supposedly, it sounds simple - all you need to do is eat healthy fruits and vegetables from the recommended list of health organizations. When I realized this, I got excited: first for my own family and then for the patients and the entire public. From there, I embarked on a journey to see how to implement it, but I encountered tremendous barriers. For example, global health organizations write in their reports that despite the soaring awareness, there hasn't been much progress. The number of people who succeed in adopting the required eating habits is below ten percent worldwide."
Based on this insight, the startup was born. "I had a few sleepless nights. I was concerned because, on the one hand, there is tremendous potential, and on the other hand, it is not within our reach. That's how the idea of GreenOnyx was born."
All of this strengthened my confidence to step out of the academic world into the journey of founding a company, developing products, conquering markets, and raising funds. It was all new to me. Through years of diverse practical experience, I gained valuable tools. And finally, the moment arrived when everything came together in action.
Thus, in 2013, she joined forces with her husband, Benny, a high-tech expert whom she had met during their undergraduate studies at the Technion. Together, they embarked on a journey - from the attic of their home. "In the first year, we set up a laboratory in the attic of our home and placed all the technological and biological risks on the table, as well as the risks of working together. Ultimately, it was a 24/7 journey, and until then, our careers were separate. It's definitely a course of action that can either succeed or not," she says. "Just like we did with all the other risks, we approached this one with a very professional process. We sought the help of a counselor who assisted in mapping out our family dynamics, parenting, and professional relationship system. After a year, when we saw that it was working for us, we set out and started raising funds. Then we moved to a modest facility in Tel Aviv and recruited employees."
What was your vision?
"We understood that there is a significant barrier in terms of supply and the agricultural side, which ultimately determines the availability, price, and freshness of fresh produce. In addition, there is a limitation on the consumption side. The urban lifestyle today is accustomed to quick solutions of fast food, where everything comes in a box and only needs to be heated in the microwave and served. We are not willing to invest much time in preparing a fresh salad," she describes. "We began to address these challenges and explore the ideal solution and what needs to happen for us to truly realize the tremendous potential that green vegetables have. We recognized that we need to develop a different supply chain that will secure and enable fresh delivery anywhere in the world to create a solution for the general public, not just for those with economic and geographical capabilities. We wanted to make fresh produce accessible in the same user experience as fast food. The freshest, healthiest, tastiest, and most accessible option."
They underwent a long journey of almost a decade of work until they established their first farm at Panorama House in Tel Aviv last year. Along the way, they raised around $40 million from investors such as Granot, Prof. Ruth Arnon, and Marius Nacht. "At the technological aspect, we aspire to create an agricultural system where seed production, vegetable cultivation, and automated packaging are conducted without human touch within the city. All of this, regardless of weather conditions or fertile soil" she specifies. "Our farm is installed in an industrial building in the middle of the city, seemingly the most illogical place to grow vegetables. That was the goal because it shortens the supply chain, reduces costs, streamlines operations, and minimizes waste."
They cultivate a vegetable you may not have heard of before called 'water lentils'. “We embarked on a journey to discover the most suitable vegetable to grow in an automated system, and that led us to water lentils. They belong to a family that includes over 200 varieties, and they proved to be the perfect choice. Interestingly, water lentils are the smallest vegetables on Earth and can be found floating on the surface of water in nearly every corner of the globe. In Southeast Asia, they have been consumed for generations!" explains Dr. Shoham. "It is considered a highly nutritious vegetable, packed with essential nutrients, yet no effective means of commercializing and marketing it has been found".
Through the utilization of technology and a sterile farming process, GreenOnyx has successfully developed the ultimate product derived from water lentils. It can fulfill an adult's daily requirement for green consumption.
"We recognized the need for a fresh vegetable that is also easily consumable. Presently, we offer various strains from the water lentil family. These strains resemble small sesame seeds, but each seed is a complete, fresh, and unprocessed plant. With our specially designed packaging, it can remain fresh for up to six weeks in your refrigerator. Additionally, it boasts a delightfully mild taste that pops in your mouth like candies. Its flavor is not overpowering, allowing it to complement almost any dish. When people inquire about the best pairing, I always respond that it depends on their favorite foods. You can enjoy it with a cheesy bread spread, dip it in yogurt or pasta sauce... It truly is the perfect way to incorporate fresh vegetables into your diet. Children even sprinkle it on top of ice cream... Seriously, you can experiment with nearly any combination!"
Following successful trials with renowned chef restaurants in Israel and around the world, GreenOnyx has commenced selling their product to select customer groups within Israel, all while aspiring to penetrate the vast retail market of the United States.
"Our ultimate objective is to make our products available in supermarkets, just like any other fruits and vegetables. This way, you can easily incorporate a few spoonfuls into your daily routine, effortlessly meeting your recommended intake of greens. Currently, we are actively establishing farms in Israel, collaborating with esteemed partners such as Kibbutz Magal and the Granot organization. Moreover, we aim to forge similar partnerships within the American B2B market. Our aim is to attract major players in these industries, creating exceptional opportunities. We are fully committed to ensuring that our products grace the shelves of supermarkets at the earliest opportunity. That is our unwavering goal”.