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Chat with the CEO | Greg Jarvis of Bluelab

Greg Jarvis

Greg Jarvis had been the Regional Manager for Ballance Agri-Nutrients for three years when he saw an opportunity he wanted to explore further. In 2000, he purchased New Zealand Hydroponics International, motivated by a desire to run his own business in a field that he cared about.

Over the next four years, Greg led the company through an evolution, rebranding as Bluelab, divesting parts of the business, and focusing their efforts on plant-growing instrumentation. Today, Bluelab is one of New Zealand’s leading agri-tech companies designing innovative plant technologies to equip growers worldwide to unlock the potential in plants.

Faced with a local skills shortage of experienced tech professionals, Bluelab is seeking to connect with experienced software developers and data scientists who are interested in joining their innovative team in New Zealand’s fastest-growing city.

Interested in joining them?  Let’s have a chat with the CEO.

Chat with the CEO | Greg Jarvis of Bluelab

Greg, first things first. Coffee?

Trim flat white, double shot thanks. My favourite part of my workday is enjoying that first cup of coffee after several early morning meetings

Can you tell us your career story?

I grew up in Papakura and attended high school there. After completing my degree in Chemical Engineering at Auckland University I moved to New Plymouth where I had various engineering and management roles at a Dow subsidiary. From there I joined what was then Farmers Fertiliser Ltd in New Plymouth as Regional Manager.  I moved to Tauranga in the late 1990’s as it was a place I had always wanted to live. The proximity of Tauranga to the Coromandel and the Central North Island was very appealing.  I joined BOP Fertiliser Ltd (now Ballance) in Mt Maunganui in 1997, also as Regional Manager.

How did Bluelab begin?

I purchased New Zealand Hydroponics International (NZHI) in August 2000, when it was a diverse horticultural design and supplies business with some electronic product assembly and design. I was looking for an opportunity to run my own business and this was one that was appealing given my background.

Over the next four years, the business was transformed to focus on instrumentation, while the other parts of the company were progressively divested. I was motivated by the vision that these products could be developed in New Zealand and sold to the world.

How would you describe Bluelab today?

At Bluelab, we are driven to develop technology to unlock the potential in plants while equipping growers with the freedom to pioneer in the plant age.

We provide plant technologies to equip growers in the greenhouse, hydroponic, aquaponic, horticulture, and floriculture sectors all over the world. Our technology supports their decision-making, speeds up operations, and provides more insight into plant health. Essentially, we work with growers to turn their craft into an art form.

Our specialty is a range of hardware and software products that monitor and control nutrients, pH, moisture, and temperature in controlled environment agriculture (CEA).  Although we market, sell and distribute internationally, we are proud we continue to design and produce our innovative tools at our Head Office right here in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.

What trends do you notice that shape Bluelab’s direction?

Globally, we’re in the midst of a food and healthcare revolution. Plant-based diets are on the rise, we’re seeing more crops being grown under cover and plant derivatives are being used as replacements for some of the world’s most problematic materials – textiles, plastics, and chemicals. We believe that through our user-focused technology and the plant potential it unlocks we are contributing towards a healthier and more sustainable world.

As a leader at Bluelab, what do you care about?

I care about delivering great products to growers.  Our best products are those that really reduce the grower’s pain points and improve their growing experience.

Our Pulse Meter is a great example of this. It is a root zone meter to measure EC (total nutrient), moisture, and temperature. It connects directly to an app to help growers collect and interpret data more easily.

We are also proud of our Pro Controller, which provides pH and nutrient automation for hydroponic reservoirs. We launched this two years ago to help automate small to medium-sized growers. Pro Controllers are now installed all over the world.

I am also motivated by the opportunity of developing a great team of Bluelab people to equip our growers worldwide.

When you look to the future for Bluelab, what do you see?

I see huge opportunities for Bluelab to continue to evolve from supplying growers with products to providing growers with insights from data that comes from our connected products.  As the world moves to a more plant-based economy, Bluelab is well-positioned to assist with this transition. I see us having an important part to play in changing the way the world grows food.

What ag-tech talent will you need to fulfill this potential?   

We will need to continue to invest in both software and hardware developers as well as bring in specialists in data science and analysis.  It’s important to me that we hire both new graduates and experienced tech professionals. This balance ensures we have sufficient experience in our team to mentor and develop new graduates

How easy is it for you to find people to hire?   

There is high demand and low supply for experienced tech talent both locally in the Bay of Plenty and also across New Zealand. At the recent Hi-Tech awards, the difficulty of attracting and keeping talent was a theme that was repeated often throughout the night. This has been borne out at Bluelab by the number of people we have brought in from overseas to fill the talent gap.

Who would you like to hear from?

It would be great to hire returning Kiwi expats.  I feel they bring a real sense of being connected to a global community.  Given that 98% of our revenue is generated through export, it just makes sense to do that. We also have a track record of hiring talented and well-qualified immigrants. We value the experience and diverse perspectives they bring to the table.

What message would you give to tech professionals who are considering moving to Tauranga?

It’s a good time to be in tech in Tauranga as the number of opportunities is increasing significantly. There is now a critical mass of established companies and that creates its own momentum. It also means people can move between companies in the Bay of Plenty, which wasn’t as easy to do in the past.   Also, we have access to a lot of ‘test’ opportunities by being situated in the key horticultural region in New Zealand.

How would you describe your company culture at Bluelab? 

Friendly and collaborative.  We value being able to bring a really good experience to both employees and customers. Many people move to Tauranga seeking a better work/life balance.  We work hard here, but we aim to be flexible with work hours where possible. The short commute distance from home is also a plus for most people.

What has been your proudest moment?

We just won the Excellence in Innovation award at the New Zealand International Business Awards – it’s one of the largest innovation awards in the country. It’s really meaningful because it recognizes the innovation effort across the business and not just in our great products. It’s a real credit to the whole team who can all be very proud. We also got to meet the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, to make the evening extra memorable.

What does Bluelab do to support the local community?

We are a key sponsor of the YIA (Young Innovator Awards) and we are a foundation sponsor of House of Science.  We are motivated to do this by a strong desire to allow the next generation to think differently about career choices and options.  The great thing about YIA is that it encourages teams and individuals to think more broadly about all the things that need to come together to bring a product or service to fruition; the big idea, the problem you are trying to solve, the messaging, the design and so on.  In addition, we think it helps to foster a real entrepreneurial spirit within the region.

With House of Science, we want to be involved in bringing science to children in a way that is approachable and fun.  I think we have all suffered the experience of science not being approachable in the classroom and how that has turned off kids from choosing science subjects in later years.

What do you personally enjoy about living in Tauranga?

I enjoy the weather, the ease of getting around, and the choices you have. I live in Omokoroa, where we have a small veggie garden. I’m not a good gardener myself, but luckily my wife Mandy is and we have a regular supply of fresh greens.  We enjoy heading across to Mount Maunganui when we have some time off. We walk around or up the Mount and enjoy the cafes over there. Cafe88 is our favourite spot for lunch.

 

Ready for a Change?

Bluelab is a key company in Tauranga’s growing agri-tech sector.

“Strong growth in Tauranga has led to significant skills shortages in our AGRI-TECH sector. Key companies want to connect with Kiwi expats, migrants and tech-professionals from within New Zealand with relevant expertise.” ~ Nigel Tutt, Priority One CEO

LEARN MORE

Thinking of moving to Tauranga someday?

Take the first steps now.

1. Like us on Facebook 

2. Email us at info@priorityone.co.nz

3. Read Q&A interviews with recent Tauranga arrivals on our Kiwi expatimmigrant and local Kiwis blogs.

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