Sustainable Ag Startup
With almost a decade’s worth of aquarium design, filtering technique and fish tank science under their belts, Eric Suen and Kevin Liang, co-founders of Aqua Design Innovations, feel confident they have the experience, knowledge and vision to offer a sustainable aquarium that utilizes aquaponic growing techniques at an affordable price.
Their product, the EcoQube, is a desktop-size, self-regulating aquaponic ecosystem complete with plants, fish, and lighting. The pair launched a Kickstarter campaign on Nov. 30, 2013, hoping to raise $39,000 by Jan. 12, 2014. If funded, the money will enable the company to start production.
In 2011, playwright, theater director and technology consultant Erika Block started the company Local Orbit with the goal of facilitating more efficient local food networks. By providing sustainable food producers with sales and business management tools, Block hoped the company could help address some of the inefficient infrastructure issues in our modern-day food system.
Over the past two years, Block has watched her vision for the company gradually transform into reality.
“Our team has doubled,” says Block. “We’ve tripled the number of markets on our platform. We currently support local marketplaces and trading networks in nine states, with over 500 food producers and 2000 buyers using the platform.”
It all started with a Facebook post.
Nick Papadopoulos was working as acting general manager of Bloomfield Farms, his wife’s parents’ 45-acre organic vegetable farm located in Northern California. One day, he found himself alone in the cooler after a farmer’s market, sipping on a beer and observing all of the unsold food that would soon become part of the farm’s chicken feed and compost bins.
Suddenly, he had an idea. Instead of giving premium organic produce to the chickens, why not give it to hungry people? So, he went online to Facebook and started typing. The original Facebook post offering leftover produce that started the cropsourcing website known as CropMobster can still be seen on the site today.
Sustainable agriculture entrepreneurs have a new fundraising option. AgFunder, an equity crowdfunding platform launched its beta site on Sept. 23, the same day that the Securities and Exchange Commission lifted an 80-year old ban on general advertising and soliciting for private investments.
AgFunder combines the business, scientific and agronomist acumen of its three founders to create a true crowdinvesting platform for agriculture startups. For each project listed on the site, AgFunder creates a fund, which in turn holds a stake in the project. This differs from the crowdfunding model of sites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, as investors actually own a piece of the project instead of just preordering a product or making a donation to a worthy effort. AgFunder makes money by charging a listing fee to each project, and by taking a cut of the profits paid to investors.
To meet world food demand in the future, agriculture productivity must increase by a factor of 1-2% per year, more than doubling total output by 2050, according to the Global Harvest Initiative’s 2012 GAP Index report. At the same time, global demand for biofuels is projected to increase by 133% by the year 2020, according to Hart Energy’s Global Biofuels Outlook Report.
Intensification of unsustainable agricultural practices to meet these competing needs often harms soil, causing nutrient depletion, erosion, salinization, and chemical, and allows the introduction of crop pests. The result: significant amounts of land are removed from production indefinitely every year. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates 1-2% of global cropland is removed from production annually due to salinization alone.
That statistic got the attention of Naveen Sikka, Founder and CEO of TerViva, an Oakland, CA-based sustainable agriculture startup aimed at developing new crops for marginal or underutilized farmland.