Founders from MIT With a Plan to Change How We Grow and Eat Food

In our industry we always talk about funding big ideas or funding things with more meaning. It’s something Yves Sisteron & I have been talking about for years at Upfront Ventures. Today we’re proud to talk more about Grove Labs – we really hope you’ll quickly check out this innovative product and we think many of you will be as impressed with Grove as we have been.

Their goal simply stated is to make growing low-carbon-footprint, zero pesticide fresh fruit & veg in your kitchen as ubiquitous as owning refrigerators. If they’re successful in the long run they will also help reduce water consumption and will help create healthier lifestyles.

It’s true that we also fund more mundane stuff like B2B software aimed at productivity improvements but we want some big bets in every fund where we feel we can contribute to “making our own little dent in the universe” as the saying goes – by backing ambitious entrepreneurs with that same goal. And of course we believe huge returns come with big platform initiatives like Grove.

I’ve spoken our goal of funding more ambitious project before and we’ve enlisted the research help of a Principal in our firm – Kevin Zhang, who has an interest in Agtech (agriculture technology). He & Yves penned this post about feeding the world’s 9 billion people. They outlined the massive challenges with global populations set to double by the end of the century, whick means we need at least a 70 percent increase in food production to feed everyone.

It’s hard to grow enough food to meet these needs, not to mention in a sustainable way and in a world where water is increasingly in short supply. Tack on the challenges with land, bee population decline, heavy use of ecologically destructive fertilizers and pesticides and extreme food waste and this adds up to a real global challenge. 

One of the first bets we made in Agtech was Grove started by two young, passionate engineers out of MIT – Gabe and Jamie. Their vision is to create technology and products for a world where food is grown in and around where people live. They originally pitched us with a hacked but super productive prototype they built in their fraternity room and a rendering of a beautiful bookshelf sized in-home growing system that they committed to building.

Grove

We loved the idea. The initial investment certainly wasn’t a consensus decision at Upfront, but that’s how we invest. With conviction. Yves, Kevin & I were all very long on the impact that Grove can make. We know it’s not going to be in every kitchen in 5 years but we each could see a world in which most houses have

own hydroponics growing systems one day.

In a mere 10 years as millennials and Generation Z become more prominent the cultural changes they will drive will cause more awareness en masse of:

  • lowering ones carbon footprint
  • eliminating herbicides & pesticides
  • eating natural, organic fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs & lettuce year round – even in cold climates

We we backed Team Grove’s mission (Kevin sourced the deal and joined the board) and just encouraged the team not to ramp up costs like many contemporary startups because we’re going to play the long game. You can’t force a market to change over night but as Bill Gates famously said, “People tend to overestimate the impact of markets in the 3 year time frame but underestimate their impact in 10 years.”

Enter Grove.

And if you ever wanted to read a book about the impact the next generations of the world population will have to content with I will tell you that one of the most profound books I’ve read in years was “Collapsed How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” by Jared Diamond, one of my all time favorite authors.

His conclusion in short is that all societies throughout history have failed due to natural resource over-exploitation and his strongest source of optimism about the future is that younger generations are starting to change consumption patterns based on this awareness.

But it will take time.

Gabe, Jamie and the Grove team have grown to 18 people since we backed them and they delivered their first beta product to 50 Boston Early Adopters last spring to raving reviews. Those customers have been growing all kinds of produce from leafy greens like lettuce and bok choy, to culinary herbs like oregano, rosemary, and basil, to small fruiting crops like cherry tomatoes and peppers.

Grove is kicking off the next huge step towards more local, sustainable food by launching the Grove Ecosystem nationally in this Kickstarter campaign.

We are big believers in their long-term vision and potential, have led their first 2 rounds of financings and are excited to have investment partners such as Gary Vaynerchuk, Related Companies, and Tim Ferriss on the journey with us. We have set aggressive internal goals for the Kickstarter campaign and are excited to see the market response.

If you ask Gabe, who is CEO, about his outlook for the Ecosystem, he’ll often respond that indoor farming in the home is analogous in many ways to where we were in the 1980 with computers. People are just starting to imagine the possibilities. Yet it can be personal, low-cost and ubiquitous. As a child of the 1970’s I can tell you that ubiquitous home computing seemed implausible in the early 80s and connected networks were something out of a sci-fi film.

We have to imagine our future world to make it happen. We’re betting that Grove can be a major force in our self-sustaining future world. And if we’re right our kids will thank us one day. (Ok, probably not. They’ll just tell us it was their idea and roll their eyes.)

Happy growing. Let us know what you think.