Jack with his magic beans has nothing on Nathan Storey.
With business partner Paul Bennick, Storey owns and operates Bright Agrotech in Cheyenne. The business specializes in agricultural sustainability and healthy food through vertical aquaponic farming production.
“Folks have been so used to traditional forms of agriculture,” Storey says. “Convincing them to go from horizontal to vertical farming has been no easy feat.”
Bright Agrotech started as a client of the Wyoming Technology Business Center (WTBC), the university’s business incubator that assists Wyoming entrepreneurs. As UW students, Storey and Bennick were winners of the 2011 UW College of Business $10K (now $30K) Entrepreneurship Competition. They received $12,500 to help start their company and one year of free business counseling services and space at the WTBC.
Storey didn’t enter his undergraduate education at UW with the idea of starting his own business and becoming an advocate for a more efficient way of growing plants. But the more he learned about aquaponics, the more passionate he became about it, focusing on its potential while earning both a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in agronomy.
“I’m not sure starting a business while working on my Ph.D. was the best idea, though,” he says with a chuckle.
The expertise provided by the WTBC helped Storey and Bennick realize their dream. “The 10K was the pivotal event that launched us on the trajectory we’re on now,” Storey says.
If there is any magic connected to Bright Agrotech, it may be the “magic” of the Internet.
The company successfully completed a Kickstarter.com crowdfunding campaign during a few weeks last December to raise the capital to invest in business expansion with development of “The Spring System,” described as the most cost-effective vertical gardening tower on the market.
“It was a good experience and an interesting medium for raising money,” Storey says. “It democratizes raising capital and provides opportunities for people like us who don’t have the ability to walk in a bank and ask for $30,000. It was a great way for us to get funding for tooling and to start production.”
Bright Agrotech has several social media and website accounts, such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and Pinterest, to promote products and grow customers—establishing an important dialogue to educate, inform and promote vertical farming in general and Bright Agrotech in particular. Storey estimates four to five man hours are spent a day by him, Bennick and employee Chris Michael on social media and marketing, including producing videos that have generated more than a quarter million views on YouTube.
The bulk of their customers are homeowners growing plants in the back yard, but most customers are in other states with a “significant” number out of country. Storey says Bright Agrotech’s marketing approach with social media brings customers to them already interested in their products, rather than them having to go out and seek customers and close a sale.
“We’re pretty darn happy with the rate of growth we’ve had,” Storey says. “On a short staff and a small budget, social media marketing gives us great results.”
This summer a trial project was set up in Fort Collins, Colo., with the purchase of a greenhouse for a farm-to-market demonstration involving a local producer and Whole Foods natural foods supermarket.
“Part of convincing folks is doing this ourselves and showing how it’s done,” Storey says.
For Storey and Bright Agrotech, there is nowhere to go but up