By Andrea Kjaer
Many people dream of living a more organic lifestyle, but it can be difficult for budding urban gardeners to get started. Traditional methods of growing seeds are messy and labor-intensive, and if you make too many mistakes on watering days, the fates of your plants don’t look good.
Advanced methods, like hydroponics, have been reserved exclusively for experts—until now.
Thanks to Ruwan Subasinghe and Alex Weiss and their Replantable Nanofarm, anyone can go green. Their invention is a self-contained hydroponic garden in a minimalistic, microwave-sized box. It has a door, a light source, a dishwasher-safe reusable tray and a few simple knobs.
All you have to do is put in a plant pad, add water and wait to harvest.
The seeds of this revolutionary idea were born in the Georgia Tech Startup Lab, an entrepreneurship course that teaches students real-world strategies to help them build their own businesses from the ground up, starting with the basics.
One of the most important foundations of any startup endeavor is to find a consumer need and fill it, Subasinghe explained.
“We’re all frustrated with buying salad greens that don’t last. Produce is already old by the time it reaches our table. Plants in a supermarket typically spend weeks in shipment, which is costly and wastes energy,” he said.
When Weiss and Subasinghe combined their expertise and their interests, they created a product that had the potential to revolutionize urban gardening. However, in the initial stage, Replantable’s product was about the size of a refrigerator—a far cry from the tidy little appliance it is now.
The professionals in charge of Startup Lab teach young entrepreneurs to follow the best practices available, which include early prototyping and consumer testing, both of which Subasinghe and Weiss explored in depth.
These crucial tests revealed that Subasinghe and Weiss had identified a solid need in the market, but their initial appliance was too large, and consumers weren’t ready to commit to such a big first step.
“One of your first instincts when you invent something is to just start building, but the phrase, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ isn’t always true.” Subasinghe said. “Our teachers told us to make it smaller; make it less intrusive. Try it out at a lower price point.”
In the next iteration, they also uncovered another need: ease of operation. Subasinghe and Weiss wanted to make something that would simplify their consumers’ lives, not make them more complicated.
“Our primary design goal was to make gardening disappear from your thought process, so we looked at products that fade out of mind, like the dishwasher, washing machine and the dryer,” Subasinghe explained. “They’ve been through so many iterations that they’re boiled down to the minimum amount of effort. We wanted to make the Nanofarm that easy.”
This realization led to perhaps their most brilliant innovation: the plant pad, an integral part of the Nanofarm.
The plant pad contains all the seeds and nutrients the plants need to survive. The nutrients slowly release, and the pad protects the seeds and allows them to germinate. It’s light, flexible and after the growing season, it can be thrown away—or even better, composted. Users can then insert a new plant pad, add water and start the cycle all over.
So how can you begin farming in your own kitchen?
The Replantable website accepts preorders for the Nanofarm with an estimated delivery date in November 2017. Beyond that, Replantable is still exploring distribution channels like Amazon Launchpad and other kitchen suppliers.
With the drive this team has to grow, though, there’s no doubt they’ll be sprouting up soon in stores near you.
All images courtesy of Replantable.