By: Chris Michael | Bright Agrotech | Co-Owner, CMO
Author photo: https://www.dropbox.com/s/xekzjsfdqo4zfyk/Chris-1182.jpg?dl=0
About our Company:
Founded here in Laramie in 2010, Bright Agrotech is a small, but rapidly scaling startup helping build a better food system by empowering anyone to grow more food without much space. We design, build, and sell vertical farming equipment that makes farming more accessible and makes access to fresh, local and flavorful produce a reality for consumers everywhere. Since about 2012, we've been rapid growing both our team and our impact as we respond to a massive and growing market for high-density hydroponic growing equipment use indoors, in greenhouses, and even on the sides of buildings.
A little history:
Our founder, Dr. Nate Storey, started Bright Agrotech while still working on his doctoral degree here at UW, a decision I'm sure he regretted slightly as he put in 100+ hour weeks to get everything done. Through his research, he developed and patented our core product, the ZipGrow tower, a vertical hydroponic tower that helps farmers and gardeners of all sizes grow more food. In 2011, with this product and a business plan in hand, we won what was then the UW Ellbogen 10K business competition and moved into office space and mentorship at the Wyoming Technology Business Center (WTBC). While the business partners toiled away making sales calls in the office, they were manufacturing towers by hand and shipping them out of a storage unit south of town. As you can imagine, that was a lot of fun in the Laramie winters, but it was the cheapest way to grow the initial customer base.
Today, we sure as heck aren't building towers by hand anymore and we've recently moved out of the WTBC after growing out of a few offices with our 15 person organization.
Our business has scaled organically from small niche market like aquaponics (i.e. growing plants and fish together in a symbiotic system) to bigger niche markets like high density indoor systems and commercial vertical farms. We've also empowered restaurants and classrooms to grow their own food, bringing an incredibly unique experience for both restaurant goer and student learner. All of this growth is based on our understanding of the market and an untraditional approach to growing our brand and our network of customers.
We've done some really interesting and exciting things over the last few years. Probably the most recent is our involvement with this year's World's Fair in Milan, Italy. Almost a year ago we were asked to help design and outfit the USA Pavilion's vertical farm: a massive 9,000 square foot food-producing wall using our ZipGrow technology.
While there were communication and design issues dealing with a variety of different architects and designers (not to mention governing bodies), we've enjoyed seeing what our equipment can do on the world's stage.
So far, it's fascinated and inspired over 2 million people as it proves to the world how America responds to a global food crisis. Our equipment is not only representing our entire country in a global quest to figure out how we'll feed 9 billion people in 2050, it's also showing the world how we can feed ourselves fresher, healthier food in 2015 by growing on the unused walls of our cities. That's a pretty neat feeling.
There are always challenges when you're attempting to grow a manufacturing business like a tech business, all without any outside investment. And, this is probably our biggest challenge.
Scaling our business from where we are currently to where we need to be to realize our vision with limited resources is a monumental undertaking. That said, every day brings new, interesting challenges. I actually have a hard time looking back over the years and remembering a "calm" week with this company.
Every day we show up early and stay late to get the job done. Every day, we push ourselves to chip away at what some people would call an impossible feat. This would (and does) crush most people, but not our team. That's what happens when you staff an organization full of scrappy, creative, and agile visionaries committed to building a bright food future. Our team is truly our secret weapon. These guys know how to win despite what seems "impossible" to most people.
Personally, I love the grind of innovating my way out of these big, gnarly challenges. It's an incredible feeling to be building an organization that has big vision, but constantly exceeds expectations for even the smallest customer. This is even more fun to do when you're surrounded by a team who share the same vision and the same drive.
Everyone on our team is here for the right reasons, with the right ambition, and regardless of their level of traditional "business" experience, they're kicking some serious ass.
Being unconventional, while it has it's own unique challenges, sure has a lot of upside to it. We all get to work in a fun, highly-engaging work environment that contributes to the growth of our not only our business, but also helps grow the confidence and competencies of our individual team members.
To me, this is what a “career” is all about and it’s what gives me “the juice,” as UW Sales Prof Josh Dorrell would say. I fundamentally believe that as much as I create things as part of this business, my work is creating me at the same time. It’s not merely clocking in and clocking out and working as a means to an end. It’s much bigger than that. It’s working as an end in itself. It’s working toward an absurdly audacious goal and growing yourself into something amazing in the process. Being on the ground floor of a small business like this, while often overwhelming is positively intoxicating for me for these reasons.
When you’re part of a bootstrapping startup, maintaining a high level of focus is absolutely critical to staying efficient and ensuring timely execution of our company priorities. To do this, we base our decisions off of a set of core principles that guide the way we do business. These are the values that help us operate with focus, vision, and some serious tenacity:
1.Create honest products and transparent relationships.
3.Always be useful.
4.Be lean, scrappy, and work hard everyday.
5.Be intentional and work with a purpose.
6.While these might look like a simple list to most people, they have much deeper meaning for our team. Our ability to live by these values determines our ability to continue scaling this beast into what we believe it could be and ensuring it has the impact we know it could have.
If you have any questions please feel free to contact us! Find us on Instagram: bright_agrotech & Facebook: Bright Agrotech
Comment below for additional questions or insights!