Grove Labs set to grow with $2M in seed funding for indoor garden technology

Boston Business Journal

A personal project turned startup business founded by two MIT seniors has caught the attention of several venture firms and angel investors who have pumped a little more than $2 million into newly launched Grove Labs.

Upfront Ventures led the round, with participation from Gary Vaynerchuck through his seed stage fund, Vayner RSE. Other participants included Felicis Ventures, Galvanize VC, and best-selling author Tim Ferriss and his AngelList syndicate. Dozens of angel investors and advisors from around the world also participated in the round.

What started out as a personal project for Jamie Byron, a recent MIT grad, has turned into a aquaculture-focused startup focused on helping families grow their own healthy sustainable food.

Byron, who studied aerospace, started the project in his door room at MIT. Byron’s fraternity brother, roommate and now co-founder Gabriel Blanchet said he wasn’t onboard with the idea of growing food in his fraternity room because he figured it would be smelly and take up window space.

But Byron’s passion trumped Blanchet’s concerns. According to Blanchet, CEO of Grove Labs, his roommate has always been interested in world problems and how technology can mitigate them, and that’s why he majored in aerospace. But in his senior year, Byron became obsessed with agriculture and the projections of food growth, which are bleak. He saw how the agricultural output is decreasing and is only focused on a few main crops including wheat, soybean and corn, according to Blanchet.

All those factored together launched Byron, CTO of Grove Labs, into a period where he cracked out on YouTube, according to Blanchet. Byron then built an aquaponic farm in the room. The duo saw a drop in their grocery bill and their room became the centerpiece of their fraternity.

“I remember very clearly snow piled up outside and we were eating fresh tomatoes and beans,” Blanchet said. “I remember thinking, if we can do this in our fraternity, then people can do at home.”

The idea started to garner attention from others and in August 2013 the roommates launched Grove Labs, which is now housed in the Greentown Labs incubator space in Somerville.

The attention grew from there. The startup, now eight people strong, were recently accepted into the MassChallenge Accelerator Program and soon began receiving calls from people interested in what they were doing from as far as the Middle East.

Because of their frustration on the current state of agriculture, the two built the startup on the principle that everyone on the planet deserves access to healthy, local, and sustainably grown food.

To do that, they have developed a prototype that, using technology, makes farming methods simpler, economical, and accessible to everyone. They haven’t released a product yet, but the way it would work is a person would order a Grove module and grow their own food.

The company’s operating system is connected to the cloud and enables users to monitor and control their farm from anywhere via an Internet browser, smartphone or tablet. The technology also enables the user to track results, adjust the environment and to view their farm from wherever they have Internet access.

“The process of growing plants is not click and grow,” Blanchet said. “It’s a commitment to a new way of living or a different way of living, and it requires work.”

While outsiders have suggested that Grove take its technology to a larger scale — and there has been interest from everyone from small hydroponic growers in the U.S. to greenhouses in the Middle East — its founders say they are focused on individual families.

“We are pretty dead set on individuals,” Blanchet said. “If you can empower people with the tools for something they’ve never done before, then that’s more powerful than making the backend of agricutlure more efficient.”

A slew of investors share the same vision and bring experience in agriculture, hardware manufacturing, consumer branding, marketing, and product development to the Grove Labs table.

“We are leading this round at Grove Labs because we love the team and believe, as they do, that many consumers are ready to grow their own organic vegetables at home, and as food safety and availability becomes more of a concern, all consumers will want to do it,” said Yves Sisteron, managing partner of Upfront Ventures.

Now that Grove has received capital, it plans to use the funding to hire designers with graphics experience, senior software engineers, senior hardware engineers, and a branding/marketing manger. And of course, anybody with with a strong passion for gardening and growing plants, according to Blanchet.

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