Personalized gardens through advanced microbiology and data science
Raised to Date: Raised: $0
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Millennials enjoy plants and gardening – in fact, over 80% of those who gardened in 2016 were millennials. As young people flock to cities, though, they have a hard time figuring out how to grow. Even if they have the space to install a garden plot, they struggle with soil contaminants and atmospheric conditions endemic to cities, not to mention the difficulty of sourcing enough sunlight for plants to grow among tall buildings.
Urban gardening is often touted for sweeping benefits for the environment and the food system; while one study found that those benefits are likely overstated, it also concluded that urban gardening does provide value to communities. Urban farms build community among city-dwellers, and they teach an appreciation for food and home-grown produce, increasingly important in a processed- or fast-food culture. It’s therefore problematic that millennials, a generation intensely interested in gardening, face challenges planting their first seed.
GrowSquares is a technologically-enabled, pre-packaged urban gardening system that allows urban gardeners to grow optimally-balanced garden plots with minimal effort. An interested gardner first downloads the GrowSquares app and places their mobile device in the location where they’d like to garden. The app scans the environment on a variety of factors, like sunlight, temperature, humidity, and soil taxonomy, and delivers customized plant recommendations tailored to the unique garden location. The gardner then orders those recommended plants, which arrive at their door in the form of GrowSquares, pre-packaged 10”x10” soil sheets that contain seeds plus soil balanced specifically for that garden location. The gardner simply arranges the GrowSheets in their garden, and receives reminders from the app to water, harvest, and more.
The GrowSquares product is unique in the market of urban growing solutions. First, it comprises both software and soil components; gardeners are supported by the mobile app, but receive an all-inclusive garden complete with soil and seeds straight to their door. GrowSquares are also highly customized: gardeners grow plants most likely to thrive in their particular urban environment, and also receive a tailored soil mix that will maximize their plot’s success.
GrowSquares was developed by a multidisciplinary team including an industrial designer and a microbiologist, which resulted in a beautifully-designed, environmentally-friendly product that is biologically engineered to produce healthy, nutritious produce no matter what the gardener’s unfriendly urban environment. GrowSquares is designed to be a comprehensive, end-to-end solution for urban gardeners looking to grow despite pollution, uneven sunlight, variable temperatures, and more.
GrowSquares conducted two pilot studies, one in New York City and one in Los Angeles. A total of 107 users across both sites planted GrowSquares, and 84% said they would purchase the product again. 61% of these users hadn’t spent anything on gardening in the previous year, proving that GrowSquares’ target market is those city-dwellers who are interested in gardening but haven’t tried growing yet due to lack of knowledge or inconvenience. Average willingness to pay per GrowSquare was $15-$25 among the pilot group.
GrowSquares is led by a multidisciplinary team with specialties in distinct functions key to the company’s success. CEO Zachary Wittman is a finance and strategy professional, with investment banking experience at PetskyPrunier and FBR Capital Markets and additional expertise from hedge funds. Wittman graduated from Carnegie Mellon with a BS in Financial Engineering and Economics, and completed post-grad coursework in Econometrics and Game Theory at MIT.
Deshaun McClintock is GrowSquares’ Head of Microbiology, leveraging his research focus in bacterial spore physiology and bioagriculture microbes to develop GrowSquares’ proprietary soil blends and planting techniques. McClintock received his BS in Biochemistry from Virginia Tech.
Jack Dinning is GrowSquares’ Head of Industrial Design, and is a senior researcher at the Healthy Materials Lab focusing on biofabricated packaging. Dinning’s has spent years evaluating the health, safety, and efficacy of packaging materials, beginning with his BA in Architectural Studies at Middlebury and MA in Architecture from the Parsons School of Design.
As a consumer product, GrowSquares intends to devote approximately 20-30% of this capital raise to digital marketing. The company plans to create gardening content for social media and partner with food websites like FoodNetwork to build a popular consumer brand; it also intends to infiltrate gardening Facebook groups to build a loyal urban gardening community, and compete on high-value search terms to win market share.
GrowSquares also plans to devote a significant portion of capital raised to operations and production improvements, scaling the development of the GrowSquares soil plots to require less labor and raw materials cost. The company plans to launch in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in the next year, and needs to ramp up production to meet anticipated demand.
Why We Like it
- Well-Credentialed Team: GrowSquares’ success depends on the team’s thorough understanding of biofabricated packaging and microbiology, in addition to solid business sense, and the company’s leadership team bears expertise in each of those disciplines. The three department heads at GrowSquares each leverage top degrees and experience in relevant fields to contribute proprietary strategy and assets to GrowSquares.
- Alignment with the Environmental Movement: In the age of climate change panic and renewed focus on the environmental impact of day-to-day life, particularly among millennials, GrowSquares offers an environmentally-friendly alternative to big-box produce purchasing and speaks directly to young, urban consumers looking to garden without the hassle. Home-grown produce saves greenhouse gas emissions from cross-country produce transit, and is guaranteed to be fresh and organic in contrast to common produce options in large cities.
- Innovative Software + Soil Offering: Urban gardening solutions that are solely app-based still require the user to figure out their own real-life gardening arrangements, and physical-only solutions lack the modern feel and convenience of a partner app. GrowSquares’ app plus soil square approach caters directly to millennials’ interest in digital experiences brought to life through well-designed products delivered straight to the door, which signals the company’s ability to build a strong brand and loyal customer community online and in real life.
The Rating: Deal To Watch
GrowSquares joins a relatively crowded space of home or urban gardening competitors, including SeedSheet, Hamama, HelloGrow, and many more. This quantity of concepts signals demand in the space, even if it does mean that GrowSquares will face a battle to win market share. While GrowSquares is relatively late to enter the market, they offer a genuinely unique combination of customization, digital experience, and physical growing products, which sets them apart from many simpler competitors. The company is further bolstered by a skilled, multidisciplinary team prepared to advance the field of urban growing through distinctive design and cutting-edge science.
It’s easy to imagine a legacy gardening brand like MiracleGro looking to acquire GrowSquares if the company performs well; MiracleGro already offers a relatively unsophisticated gardening app, and could be prudent to acquire more consumer-friendly technology for gardening customization and urban growing essentials. While the gardening space has few acquisitions to report given its relative infancy, GrowSquares will compete to demonstrate customer loyalty and could position itself as an attractive acquisition target as gardening and urban growing matures.
Interest in gardening is on the rise among millennials, but so too is migration to urban environments. GrowSquares offers a novel solution for the millennial urban gardener, enticing them with a high-quality digital app experience to pair with good old fashioned planting (facilitated by a simple Square) – that’s why GrowSquares is a Deal to Watch.