University of Maryland alumni win grant to fund eco-friendly garden company

Matthieu Drotar | 5/1/2013, 9:50 a.m.

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.