Square Roots, the Brooklyn-based indoor farmer training program and container farm founded by Kimbal Musk, has raised a $5.4 million seed round led by New York-based VC Collaborative Fund, joined by several individual investors.
The 12-month indoor farmer training program launched with 10 farmers exactly one year ago and has received hundreds of applications for its second season. Accepted applicants will receive mentoring from Freight Farms alum Phil Cuddleback as well as a team of industry mentors including other indoor growers like Plenty, Edenworks, Farm.One and Gotham Greens.
“We launched Square Roots last August, as a platform for urban farming and real food entrepreneurship, to empower a whole new generation of leaders to work towards a real food revolution,” wrote Musk in a Medium post announcing the raise.
The company will use the new funds to replicate the Brooklyn program in another unspecified US city.
Square Roots growers sell their leafy greens and herbs to restaurants as well as through an office community supported agriculture (CSA) subscription program for $5-$7 per bag. The program has 80 offices participating in the program and CEO Tobias Peggs says that by combining restaurant customers and the farm’s produce customers, it is reaching thousands of New Yorkers.
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The first class of indoor farmer entrepreneurs, as well as the setup of the container farm in a Brooklyn parking lot, was initially financed by Musk and other individuals. Plus, several of the entrepreneurs received USDA Farm Services Agency micro loans and Pegg expects that relationship to continue.
As entrepreneurs do not pay tuition for the program — they do pay a refundable deposit — Square Roots’ revenue comes from selling food and some onsite events. Peggs said that the Square Roots model is scalable because Square Roots provides the back-end services.
“Because Square Roots provides the platform with tech, business development, branding, and public relations, that means that entrepreneurs can focus on growing food and engaging the customer.” The company claims that their containers yield more than more 50 lbs of leafy greens each week using eight gallons of water per day.
He also touted the increasing trend of impact investing among some VC firms.
“The more impact we create (more food, more entrepreneurs), the bigger the business becomes (which delivers the financial returns). Square Roots is a good example of this new model – impact-first business – which is what attracted investors.”
As suggested by Musk in his announcement, Peggs also said that developing software specifically for Square Roots is most likely in the cards. Peggs himself has a PhD in machine learning, an element that multiple indoor farming operations like Bowery Farming and Plenty are developing or purport to already have in use.
Kimbal Musk is also an investor in cellular agriculture company Memphis Meats, founder of The Kitchen Community, a nonprofit that builds learning gardens in schools, sits on the board of Chipotle, and owns several farm-to-table restaurants.
Collaborative Fund is also invested in nondairy milk product, Ripple Foods and e-grocer Good Eggs, as well as Modern Meadow, a company bio-fabricating alternatives to traditional leather, Sweetgreen, Blue Bottle Coffee, Hampton Creek, and Impossible Foods.
Information about Square Roots, along with many other resources for wannabe indoors farmers can be found here.
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