WEEK 2: We Dove Into the Twin Cities to Learn About Hydroponics and Aquaponics

Open Road — Week Two
By Team SASA

This post originally appeared on the Michigan Ross website.

Peter wasn’t always a veggie eater. Quite the opposite, in fact. It wasn’t until a close family member lost a battle with cancer and chemo that he started researching natural wellness. That was almost two years ago, and he’s since transformed his health, become an expert in healing through food, and gained a deeper sense of purpose in his work — increasing access to nutritional sustainability.

The business

Garden Fresh Farms (GFF) grows leafy greens — mostly herbs — through hydroponics and aquaponics.Hydroponics is the growing of plants in water (or peat moss, in GFF’s case), and aquaponics is the growing of plants using fertilizer from fish. The big advantages of growing produce through these methods are savings in land and water use. With the unique patent-pending technology that GFF founder David Roeser designed with input from his son Bryan, a biochemist, they can grow 100 times more produce using 95 percent less water relative to irrigated outdoor farms. Yes, you read that right. One hundred times more produce using 95 percent less water.

The challenge

While with the GFF team, we were asked to address how the farm can raise capital within two months to support the business in its next phase of growth. GFF has an exciting future ahead with contracts in the pipeline with national, household-name retailers. But the farm needs to increase capacity to meet demand. GFF currently sells herbs at regional grocers and wants to scale so they can reach a wider market with their organically grown leafy greens while maintaining affordability for consumers. The farm has conducted a crowdfunding campaign in the past but hasn’t gained traction.

The approach

We approached the challenge by interviewing investors and board members, visiting the warehouse-turned-farm, taking trips to the stores where the herbs are sold, and reviewing due-diligence files. We also interviewed entrepreneurs from Michigan Ross’ Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies on their experience with raising capital and conducted secondary research online. We dug into various methods of raising capital and ranked them according to multiple criteria to meet GFF’s needs.

The recommendations

We recommended sticking with crowdfunding as the best way to meet the farm’s needs at its current stage of maturity, providing different crowdfunding platforms with options to maintain all or most equity. We provided details on how to pick a crowdfunding platform, how to reach an audience through a crowdfunding video, and how to target the growing population of millennial investors strategically and tactically.

We were honored and excited to deliver actionable input for Garden Fresh Farms, but we were blessed with much more. We learned about hydroponics and the density challenges that many players in the industry face. We got a taste of the intense capital-raising pressures that entrepreneurs can have. And we learned about the need to bridge intergenerational divides to strengthen the voice of the sustainable agriculture story. Through interviews with Kirk, an angel investor, and Steve and Mohit, industry experts from Cargill and board members of GFF, we were inspired to see the farm from new angles.

The future

We’re excited for the future of Garden Fresh Farms. We believe in its potential with its unique technology, allowing it to reach new levels of efficiency so we can tread more lightly on the Earth. We’re inspired by its “24 Fresh” model, guaranteeing maximum freshness so consumers can get the most nutrition out of its organic herbs. We love the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture arm, which delivers fresh produce of its own and that of other local farmers, including the Hmong immigrant community. We see how much impact social entrepreneurs like David and Peter can make on their community.

And we’re reminded that you don’t need to win a Nobel prize to change the world. We can’t wait to see what the future of the farm holds.

Team SASA consists of Anita Lin, Sarah Haroon, Sanmeet Jasuja, and Alexander Ho, members of the Ross MBA Class of 2017.

They just wrapped up their third week with Emerging Prairie in Fargo, N.D. Follow #RossOpenRoad for more.

Open Road is sponsored by the Zell Lurie Institute, the Center for Social Impact, and General Motors.