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Bright AgroTech CEO Graduates from WTBC, Forges Forward with Successful Business

October 28, 2015
man standing and holding on to a pipe over his head with plants all around him
Nate Storey, CEO of Bright AgroTech LLC, will be recognized at the e2e Wyoming meeting in Laramie Nov. 18, from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center, 222 S. 22nd St. Storey recently officially “graduated” from the WTBC incubator space, and he will receive the hallway business sign as a symbolic graduation diploma. (Bright AgroTech Photo)

Nate Storey’s entrepreneurial journey has taken the University of Wyoming graduate from Cheyenne to Milan, and points in between.

Storey received his doctoral degree in agronomy from UW in 2012. After winning the 2011 UW College of Business $10K Entrepreneurship Competition with business partner Paul Bennick, of Gillette, Storey spent a few more years developing his business, Bright AgroTech LLC, with the assistance of UW’s Wyoming Technology Business Center (WTBC). The Cheyenne native recently moved his business operations to the Allsop Inc. warehouse facilities on Commercial Drive in Laramie.

Storey, the company’s CEO, recently officially “graduated” from that WTBC incubator space, and he will receive the hallway business sign as a symbolic graduation diploma at an e2e Wyoming meeting in Laramie Nov. 18, according to Jon Benson, CEO of the WTBC. Storey is now working with the Laramie City Council and the Laramie Chamber Business Alliance to secure a permanent building for his business, which manufactures and installs vertical farming equipment.

“It was invaluable,” says Storey, 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. ”

“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.”

Bright AgroTech, a Laramie-based manufacturer, has developed several products to encourage people to farm. The company’s products include the Hanging ZipGrow Tower and ZipGrow Matrix Media Replacement. The company’s technology combines the principles of aquaponic systems -- in which crops are grown above containers with aquatic animals -- and vertical crop growing. These hydroponic towers are highly productive, modular and are functional in a variety of plant production settings.

A variety of plants are raised in these plastic towers. Inside the towers are air-spun fibers -- made from recycled plastic bottles -- that contain worms and bacteria. Water continually flows through the towers, which are located above tubs that contain tilapia, a type of fish that has been farmed for centuries. The waste from the fish serves as fertilizer in the towers, where the worms and bacteria oxidize the ammonia and turn it into nutrients for the plants. The system produces no waste.

The designed product can be used for commercial greens production as well as landscape design. The product allows produce to be displayed whole and unharvested in the marketplace and gives consumers the ultimate experience in freshness, nutrition and flavor.

“We sell to growers and supermarkets, mostly greens and herbs, lettuce, kale, chard, bok choi and culinary herbs,” Storey says. “We’ve got a couple hundred growers now from all over the world.”

In fall 2013, Whole Foods in Fort Collins, Colo., was the first major supermarket chain to feature the Hanging ZipGrow Tower technology in its stores. Since then, more supermarket chains have followed suit.

Benson says the WTBC’s primary objective is to keep budding companies focused on things most important given a business’s given stage of development.

“At the beginning, we were trying to find a market for his product,” Benson explains. “You identify different markets and pursue them. Through that process, his markets were people going into the greenhouse business. Once you identify a market, then it goes to initial sales.”

Most recently, Bright AgroTech has created the world’s largest food-producing wall for the USA Pavilion at the World’s Fair, scheduled through Oct. 31, in Milan, Italy. Using the company’s ZipGrow vertical panels, Storey was able to convince the pavilion’s architect that vertical farming with ZipGrow towers represents the future of agriculture.

The company currently has 22 full-time employees, including five part-time workers.

“Almost all of them are UW graduates, from communications, engineering and ag economics,” Storey says.

However, with the company’s continued growth, more manpower is needed. And Storey would like to continue the trend of hiring UW graduates.

“We recruit heavily from the university,” he says. “I don’t really see any reason to go out-of-state for that (hiring).”

With that expected growth, Storey foresees it won’t be long before the company outgrows its Allsop space, which is roughly 4,000 square feet of warehouse space and 3,000 square feet of office space.

“We’ll probably double to triple that space next year,” says Storey, who stresses he wants to keep the company in Wyoming.

“Bright AgroTech has experienced tremendous growth, and I believe that trend will continue for many years to come,” Benson says.

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