Urban farming incubator Square Roots raises $5.4M

Square Roots isn’t your normal startup incubator. Sure, the people who participate are entrepreneurs — but instead of sitting at desks building new gadgets or smartphone apps, they’re growing food in hydroponic farms housed inside long, metal containers.

Founded by executive chairman Kimbal Musk (brother of Elon Musk, and board member at SpaceX, Tesla and Chipotle) and CEO Tobias Peggs (former CEO of Aviary), Square Roots launched a year ago in Brooklyn. Musk says it’s now accepting applications for its second group of food entrepreneurs, selecting a city for its second location and it’s closed $5.4 million in seed funding.

That money includes $2 million from led by Collaborative Fund — Musk notes that the firm previously invested in Sweetgreen and Kickstarter, two very different companies that both work with Square Roots.

Each class of Square Roots selects 10 people who participate in a yearlong program where they’re trained in urban farming while also putting that training to use by growing food in Square Roots facilities.

I had a chance to visit Square Roots’ Brooklyn location months ago, where I saw the former shipping containers that house the indoor farms. (The company says each container can produce more than 50 pounds of leafy greens per week while only requiring eight gallons of water per day.)

I enjoyed the contrast of the lush, warm indoor farms with the freezing New York winter outside, and I was impressed by the technology that Peggs showed me allowing the farmers to monitor the conditions inside. I also had a chance to meet some of the entrepreneurs themselves — they came from different backgrounds and were growing different crops, but they were united by an interest in rethinking food production.

Square Roots says its farmers are now distributing greens to more than 80 offices in New York City, and they’re also working with local restaurants.

“There is undoubtedly a lot of work ahead of us, and this funding will only help accelerate that,” Musk writes. “From hardware and software projects to help farmers grow more real food using fewer resources; to expanding our programming so we can support more entrepreneurs. We’re building a future where every person on the planet has a direct relationship with their farmer — who is producing locally grown food that people can trust.”