Two entrepreneurial University of Maryland alumni were recently awarded over $52,000 as the winner of this year’s Cupid’s Cup Business and Innovation Showcase and Competition in order to fund their eco-friendly company, Earth Starter.
Earth Starter aims to “take the guesswork out of gardening” with their product, the Nourishmat. Measuring four-feet by six-feet, the Nourishmat is a simple all-in-one roll-out garden that gets laid down on any healthy soil area, stapled to the ground and plugged into a hose.
“The Nourishmat comes with 82 pre-planted seed balls which are kind of the secret sauce of the product,” said Earth Starter co-founder Phil Weiner. “The great thing about these seedballs is that since we have pre-planted the seeds, we have encased it in a mixture of clay to hold in moisture, organic matter to feed the seed faster and chili powder to keep away pests.”
Earth Starter, was founded in May 2011 by Weiner and John Gorby, while studying agricultural economics and environmental and technological sciences, respectively.
“Our entire vision was to tackle real world issues; the main issue being what we believe could be the world’s most pressing issue, which is healthy food supply with limited resources,” said Weiner. “No one really knows how to grow a tomato. You go to college, you learn all this great stuff, and you can’t even fend for yourself. That’s what our goal is, to take a market-based approach to solve a real-world problem, to turn earth consumers into producers.”
As of now, both Nourishmats, as well as Herbmats, a smaller version, can be purchased online, as well as at select farmer’s markets and small retailers. Both models are currently available only as single-crop kits, although the company aims to allow consumers to customize their mats based on a “complex planting algorithm” for best results by 2014,” according to Weiner.
Sponsored by the University’s Robert H. Smith School, Cupid’s Cup was started by Under Armour founder and Maryland alumnus Kevin Plank in order to encourage student’s dreams of starting new businesses. Named after a rose delivery system Plank started in when enrolled at the University, Cupid’s Cup has recently expanded to a nationwide competition.
Facing an influx of demand for their product, Earth Starter plans to use its newly found capital to purchase inventory, package its product and increase marketing.
In addition to the cash prize, Weiner and Gorby have been granted access to Plank’s extensive professional network.
“The one thing that winning Cupid’s Cup has done is that I’ve had non-stop calls from investors, which is pretty cool considering nobody would give us any money beforehand,” said Weiner. “We literally got everything we asked for. It was like the best Christmas present ever.”
Going forward, Weiner hopes to grow Earth Starter into a “very large global brand” known for all-natural products and tackling real-world issues such as food security.
“In five years, we hope to rethink backyards everywhere, said Weiner.
“We want to tackle real issues so we hope that it becomes a great educational product as well as a lawn and garden product.”
And the dream does not end at back yards. In the most immediate future, Earth Starter will have finished a new prototype for a two-foot by three-foot mat for those living in a more urban setting, which can be used in places such as fire escapes, greenhouses and rooftops.
“The seedballs are perfect for apartment dwellers because if you have a south-facing window you can actually grow food and flowers in pots right now, but in the future we hope to have hanging apartment products and other products specially targeted for urban living,” said Weiner.