Your Very Own Indoor, Hydroponic Grove

A couple of engineers graduated from college to hardware startup, becoming a darling of Tim Ferriss along the way.

If you live in a city, eating locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables mostly requires you to seek out specific grocery stores, or parse through the produce section of a mainstream one, or wake up early on a Saturday and trek to the farmer’s market. And you might feel bad for craving zucchini in November, since it’s usually only available locally as a summer vegetable.

Buying organic is not completely convenient, and it’s hard not to stray away from it every now and then. But let’s say that eating all kinds of organic produce year-round was as easy as opening the fridge in your kitchen. A company called Grove Labs has been developing something along those lines ever since graduating from this spring’s inaugural class of the R/GA Accelerator—which is incidentally in the process of choosing its second class—and finishing college. Grove Labs, a team of freshly minted MIT and RISD grads, now has early iterations of the produce-growing units operating in users’ homes.

The grove, which sits alongside your kitchen’s other appliances.

Designed to fit alongside the appliances in and blend into the décor of your kitchen, Grove Labs’ device lets you grow fruits and vegetables hydroponically, without leaving your house. The whole setup includes the hydroponic chamber, which you can monitor through the transparent encasement, as well as a mobile app to keep track of growing conditions and link up to vendors to replenish your materials. The Grove Labs team calls the contraption a grove, not to be confused with a greenhouse.

"I don’t object to people calling it an indoor greenhouse, but I wouldn’t. It is a grove, which is a product or an area in someone’s home that grows food," says Gabe Blanchet, cofounder and CEO of Grove Labs.

Grove Labs’ founders, Jamie Byron (left) and Gabe Blanchet (right).

Blanchet and his cofounder, Jamie Byron, were still finishing up their undergraduate coursework in mechanical and aerospace engineering at MIT, last year, when they started actively seeking out ways to turn their grove idea into a business. As rising seniors, they took part in the MIT Global Founders’ Skills Accelerator and raised seed money from friends and family. Last fall, R/GA accepted them into its accelerator among 10 hardware startups, where Blanchet and Byron started to build out the grove concept with $120,000 in financial resources, while refining their brand.

Immediately after presenting at R/GA’s demo day at SXSW this year, Grove Labs attracted $2 million in funding from a couple of venture capital firms, two seed-stage funders, and angel investors. Having advertised on AngelList, it eventually caught the attention of Tim Ferriss, the "four-hour" guru and now investor. Ferriss eventually used AngelList to get his network on board with Grove Labs, boosting the company’s funding. Ferriss is now an official advisor to Grove Labs.

Since raising the $2 million, Grove Labs set up its office outside of Boston and invested in capital equipment to fill its new machine shop. There, the team plans to build up manufacturing knowledge in-house and fill small orders. At the moment, the team is still in the product development phase, waiting on user feedback from the people who are currently testing the groves in their homes. From there, they will solidify the design and continue product iterations.

"I think for a seed-stage startup in hardware, you’re usually taught to stay lean and don’t buy any tools and just outsource everything. But we’ve done the opposite," says Blanchet. With these resources, the team is learning a lot about how to design for manufacturing and also perfecting the grove’s features in-house.

Getting to invent and build something as a job right after college is valuable to Blanchet. He understands that while many of his engineering classmates had their pick of positions in investment banking, consulting, or software development after graduation, Grove Labs is the next logical step in his development; he’s always been building things.

"Jamie and I both come from an engineering background, and I don’t think we were ever tempted to just go to a larger company and work for somebody," he says. "It wasn’t like we were training to be engineers to go write software for someone—or go to Wall Street and don’t build anything."

[Photo: Flickr user chee.hong]

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