Spencer Curry, of CEO FRESH Farm Aquaponics, Inc., didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur. He and his business partner, Kieran Foran, created an innovative startup based on an idea to make Hartford “the city that feeds itself.”
Watch a 1-minute video describing the company’s vision of a “new wave of entrepreneurs feeding their communities with aquaponics and other agriculture technologies.”
Curry recently told Innovation Destination: Hartford about his company’s vision to create more farmers and empower them to feed their communities throughout Connecticut.
IDH: Did you always have an entrepreneurial drive?
CURRY: I cannot say that I’ve always had an entrepreneurial drive, although I never really liked working for other people. On the other hand, my business partner Kieran and I have always shared random ideas and inspirations for cool inventions we would like.
In the second half of my senior year as a Latin and Philosophy major, I was not feeling too excited about my post-college prospects. Around this time, I started educating myself about nutrition, our food system and other scientifically minded stuff that was as far from Latin as I could get. This was where my dormant drive system really started to kick into gear. Since then, I have undergone a tectonic shift in personality. Now I’m grateful for the drive and vision of a better future that fills my life.
IDH: Tell us about FRESH Farm Aquaponics. When and why did you start the company?
CURRY: FRESH Farm Aquaponics was founded in November 2012. We started it because we had experienced the abundance of aquaponics firsthand and were convinced of its viability in feeding the world.
Aquaponics can grow edible fish and tons of plants all in one system in any climate, even in urban environments. We recognized this as an opportunity to take part in the shift toward urban agriculture, which represents a massive new market. According to the World Health Organization, 70% of the world’s population will become urbanized in the next 10 years.
IDH: How did you develop the business concept?
CURRY: Kieran and I have experience in many areas of revenue generation in aquaponics, ranging from selling produce at the farmer’s market; to designing, building, and maintaining commercial systems for clients; to on-site job training; to in-school education and system installations. Our experiences in all of these areas has given us insight into the future of our business as the nexus of empowering the entrepreneurs that make up the new wave of urban farmers.
Our experience has led to a series of modular aquaponics systems for in-home, in-school, and commercial uses. We are opening preorders for these systems for the 2015 holiday season. Our systems come with in-person support for Connecticut residents and online support in the form of a private online community and video learning area. The long-term goal is to create more farmers and empower them to feed their communities across Connecticut, the country and the world!
IDH: How does your product work?
CURRY: Aquaponics is the system of growing fish and plants together in a sustainable ecosystem. Fish release ammonia, which microbes convert into nitrogen fertilizer. The plants consume the nitrogen and return clean water to the fish. This represents an advance over traditional aquaculture and hydroponics because it reduces need for petroleum-based chemicals (hydroponic nutrients), antibiotics (aquaculture) and decreasing water consumption (90%+ less than conventional farming methods).
Our product harnesses the power of nature by making aquaponics available to everyone. We empower our clients to grow by offering them subscription services for recurring needs such as seedlings, fingerling fish, fish food and nutrients. That way our clients can grow like pros right out of the gate.
Flowbox 1, our smallest system, is a 33” cube that can grow a kitchen’s worth of herbs and a few tomatoes after a year of conditioning. The system is designed to bring the beauty of nature to the home, the classroom or the office.
Floasis 1, our next-size system, starts at 4’ × 12’ with two additional optional 4’ × 8’ grow beds. This system is perfect for basement or backyard production or an in-depth classroom experience for science teachers.
Finally, we will have a modular system for commercial production available in mid-2016.
IDH: What else is next for FRESH Farm Aquaponics?
CURRY: We are already the largest aquaponics network in the northeast U.S. with 12 systems in nine locations. In the next three to five years we hope to have not just one, but five of our urban vertical systems operating in the Greater Hartford area.
We are on a quest to make Hartford the city that feeds itself by empowering locals through job training to operate and maintain the urban aquaponics farms and feed their own communities.
To spur on the adoption of aquaponics, we will continue to refine and release our Flowbox and Floasis systems. We are currently experimenting with adding smart capabilities to our systems via sensors and controllers embedded in the equipment itself. This will give our farmers unprecedented insight into their own farms and help them grow to a new level. We believe strongly that smart systems are the key to empowering entrepreneurs to adopting aquaponics as it has with hydroponics.
IDH: What is the best thing about being in the Greater Hartford region?
CURRY: I love being here in Hartford at the start of something big. You can feel the excitement in those who see the bright future being created here. It is amazing to be in a city so dedicated to meeting the future head on and supporting innovation in so many ways.
IDH: What one piece of advice you would give to startup business owners?
CURRY: Ask your (potential) clients what they want and then give it to them! It is that simple. Of course, at the end of the day, the final say is up to you, but don’t be afraid to question, poll and survey your audience to fine tune and tweak your offerings.
Don’t waste time working on a feature if it turns out your customers don’t want it!