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1000 E University Ave

Dept. 3226, Bureau of Mines

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-2379

Fax: (307) 766-6729

Email: uwmktg@uwyo.edu

UW Graduate Becomes Successful Entrepreneur

Nate Storey never thought of himself as a good student. In fact, he considers it “amazing” that he graduated from the University of Wyoming with a doctorate in agronomy in 2012.

But Storey left UW with much more than an advanced degree: He had patents, valuable intellectual property. And with the help of UW’s Wyoming Technology Business Center (WTBC), he turned his startup business, Bright Agrotech, into a major success, with 43 employees at its Laramie operation.

He was so successful that now, just five years after he completed his studies at UW, Bright Agrotech has been acquired by Plenty, a Silicon Valley company that plans to maintain and enhance the Wyoming operation.

Storey credits his time at the university, particularly his time in the WTBC, UW’s business incubator, for much of his success. 

“It was invaluable,” Storey says of his three years building his business at the WTBC. “It was a great experience. We got to work with amazing people. They really helped guide our company.”

Bright Agrotech’s UW-licensed technology combines the principles of hydroponic systems—in which crops are grown without the use of soil—and vertical crop growing to maximize space use efficiency. The company’s products include the ZipGrow Tower and ZipGrow Matrix Media. The hydroponic towers are highly productive, modular and are functional in a variety of plant production settings.

Nate Storey
UW alumnus Nate Storey started Bright Agrotech, a company that specializes in hydroponic vertical crop growing.

Storey, who won the 2011 UW College of Business $10K Entrepreneurship Competition with business partner Paul Bennick, of Gillette, “graduated” from the WTBC in 2015 and moved his business operations to the Allsop Inc. warehouse facilities on Commercial Drive in Laramie. And construction is underway on a new, 12,150-square-foot building in the Laramie River Business Park to house the growing company, now merged with Plenty, a field-scale vertical farming company that aims to reshape agriculture to bring fresh and locally grown produce to people everywhere.

“Our vision at Bright Agrotech has always been to provide better food for people who want it, with technology and techniques that help anyone anywhere realize the benefits of local food,” says Story, who is now Plenty’s chief science officer. “Joining forces with Plenty allows us to run faster toward our goal of making fresh, local food ubiquitous and available everywhere. We're all really excited about the opportunity and excited to continue operating here in Laramie.”

Storey’s business and cultivation models evolved during his time at UW. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in agroecology in 2006, he wasn’t inclined to stay in college—“I’ve never been good at school; it’s not a place I always wanted to be”—but he was persuaded by his adviser to stay and pursue a master’s degree.

Jon Benson, CEO of the WTBC, says the combination of Storey’s innovative vision and entrepreneurial approach led to his company’s success.

“We always thought it (Bright Agrotech) had a lot of potential,” Benson says. “It was new. Nate was a charismatic guy, full of vision. Given his vision, it seemed he would get some traction.”

In his new role with Plenty, Storey plans to stay in Laramie and will travel often to California. All 43 local employees will be retained, says Chris Michael, Bright Agrotech’s CEO.

“Plenty is very interested in growing operations in Laramie, and numbers will likely grow as Plenty grows,” Michael says. “We would love to see Laramie continue growing into the controlled environment agriculture technology capital of the U.S.”

Bright Agrotech’s success, and its acquisition by Plenty, “is another home run for technology-related business development stemming from bright minds associated with the University of Wyoming,” says Bill Gern, UW’s vice president for research and economic development.

He notes that this is the second UW spinout company acquired by a Silicon Valley firm: Firehole Composites, whose origins sprung from the UW’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, was acquired in 2013 by Autodesk Inc., which focuses on 3-D design, engineering and entertainment software.

“The university has been instrumental in changing the business landscape in southeastern Wyoming, and Laramie is now truly a tech hub,” Gern says.


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University Public Relations

1000 E University Ave

Dept. 3226, Bureau of Mines

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-2379

Fax: (307) 766-6729

Email: uwmktg@uwyo.edu

1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82071
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