Interview: Peter Korsten from Botany talks about combining product development and business

News 18 February 2019
HAS University of Applied Sciences - Peter Korsten

“At HAS University of Applied Sciences, I discovered that there was more than just growing”

By Florieke Koers

Peter Korsten graduated in Horticulture & Arable Farming at HAS University of Applied Science in 1993. In 2004, he founded Botany, a company specialised in developing products for the horticulture sector. It is a company with extensive knowledge and expertise in both cultivation and product development. Based in Meterik, in the southern Dutch province of Limburg, Botany is a partner company of HAS University of Applied Science in Venlo. Partners, Signify, Botany and HAS University of Applied Sciences carry out research into plant recipes in the Brightbox innovation centre in Venlo. Peter looks back on his time as a student and his career, and talks about Botany’s activities.

Tell us about your background and why you chose HAS University of Applied Sciences

Peter: “When I was growing up, my parents had a tomato growing business in Panningen in Limburg. I chose to study at HAS University of Applied Science because I wanted to take over the company. For a while, I couldn’t decide between HAS and Wageningen University, but I thought HAS would give more opportunities for actually growing plants, which is what I was looking for. Ironically, it was at HAS that I discovered that there was more to horticulture than just growing.

HAS University of Applied Sciences - Peter Korsten

What did your early career look like?

After graduating, I decided to continue my studies at Wageningen. But around the same time, I saw a great opportunity at WUR Greenhouse (then PPO), which I applied for. As a result, I didn’t get any further than intro week on my course and, in fact, started straight away as a researcher in fertilising.”

How did Botany come into being?

“Actually, that was just a coincidence. After my first job, I took on different positions at WUR Greenhouse, Eurofins (then BLGG) and ICL (then SCOTTS). These included leading a team of horticultural consultants and a research laboratory. I was also a consultant, and was involved in product development. In 2003, I was working back at WUR Greenhouse for 2 major clients: the former Dutch Product Board for Horticulture and the Dutch government. They wanted to shift towards more co-creation with greenhouse companies and I developed a plan for to achieve this. However, as a result of a reorganisation, the plan was put on hold. So, 2 colleagues and I decided to implement the plan ourselves from within a new company. We managed to come to a deal with WUR Greenhouse, and Botany was born.

What exactly does Botany do?

“Our initial focus was on facilitating research and development in the horticulture sector. Companies were able to rent space with us to carry out research. In addition, we also grew vegetables, flowers and pot plants to generate income. In 2008, we set up our expertise activities and started supplying knowledge to companies that came to us. In the end we got rid of our cultivation activities and these days we focus on 6 areas: plant physiology, seed physiology, entomology, phytopathology, cultivation techniques and cultivation systems. We develop tests, carry out research, make prototypes and assist in developing products.”

What makes Botany so successful?

“We distinguish ourselves from other companies because we focus on the professional horticulturist, in particular research & development companies: breeders/propagators, agrochemists and agrotechnicians. For example, we help develop a product and the company markets it. The fact that 3 of us founded the company together, formed the basis for our success. We really complemented each another. Now, I’m on my own: Huub sadly passed away and Geert has left the company. This took some getting used to, but I have a team of 30 people around me. The Botany Group comprises of 5 companies: Botany, Exploras, Innoveins, Innoveins Seed Solutions and BrightBox. Looking back at our original plan, we have actually stuck quite close to it. The vision hasn’t changed, but it has been adjusted to reflect market developments. Co-creation still forms the red line through all our operations. And we’ve made research affordable.”

So, your career has turned out differently than your early plans...

“After I graduated, I realised I wanted to work in product development, but I never expected to combine this with my own business. And I really enjoy this combination.”

What are your thoughts on your time as a HAS student?

“They were 4 happy years, during which I discovered and learnt a lot. I’m glad I decided to live in student digs. It made me independent. One lecturer I have always remembered is Jasper den Besten. In those days, I was impressed by how young he was. He’s still at HAS, working as a lecturer in New Cultivation Systems. And now, at Brightbox, he and I work together a lot, which is really special to me.”

And your wife is also a HAS graduate?

“She studied Environmental Innovation. We didn’t meet at HAS, but on the student social scene - another advantage of living on your own. We have 3 sons, aged 11, 12 and 14 years old. They too are really interested in plants and in what I do, but each from their own perspective. The first enjoys working in the garden, the second is more interested in the biology behind the plant, and the third sees business opportunities in it. It’s clear that young people see the horticulture sector view differently to when I was growing up. When I was young, we thought that if you worked in horticulture, you got dirty hands and had to work really hard. These days, it’s seen as a really trendy choice.”

What would you like to pass on to today’s students?

“Immerse yourself in the theoretical subjects. As managing director, I focus less on the plants and more on the business side of things. But because I have the theoretical knowledge I need about plants, I am able to make the right connections. I understand what it’s all about. In my opinion, that’s the true value of having studied at HAS!”