As more consumers embrace plant-based diets and sustainable food practices, Rise Gardens is giving anyone the ability to have a green thumb from the comfort of their own home.
The Chicago-based indoor, smart hydroponic company raised $9 million in an oversubscribed Series A round, led by TELUS Ventures, with existing investors True Ventures and Amazon Alexa Fund and new investor Listen Ventures joining in. The company has a total of $13 million in venture-backed investments since Rise was founded in 2017, founder and CEO Hank Adams told TechCrunch.
Though he began in 2017, Adams, who has a background in sports technology, said he spent a few years working on prototypes before launching the first products in 2019. Rise’s IoT-connected systems are designed to grow vegetables, herbs and microgreens year-round.
Customers can choose between three system levels and get started with their first garden for about $300.
There is a “kind of joyousness” in being able to grow something, but people are looking for assistance because they don’t want to get into a hobby that will become demanding or stressful, Adams said. As a result, Rise’s accompanying mobile app monitors water levels and plant progress, then alert users when it’s time to water, fertilize or care for their plants.
“People are paying attention to food, and they care about what they eat,” he added. “Then the global pandemic played a part in this, with people leaning into growing their own food.”
In fact, customers leaned into growing food so much that Rise Gardens saw its sales eclipse seven figures in 2020, and gardens sold out three times during the year. Customers purchased close to 100,000 plants and have harvested 50,000.
The company estimates it helped keep more than 2,000 pounds of food from being wasted and saved 250,000 gallons of water since launching in 2019.
The concept of an indoor farm is not new. Incumbents include AeroGarden, AeroGrow, which was acquired by Scotts-Miracle Gro last November, and Click & Grow. Rise is among a new crop of startups that have raised funds that include Gardyn.
However, Rise Gardens is differentiating itself from those competitors by making its gardens from powder-coated metals and glass and are designed to be a focal point in the room. It is also offering ways for people to experiment with their gardens.
“We wanted something that would be flexible because once you have mastered a hobby, you will get bored,” he added. “You can start at one level and they swap out tray lids to grow more densely. We have a microgreens kit you can add, or add plant supports for tomatoes and peppers. You can also build a trellis to vine snap peas.”
Adams will focus the Series A dollars into product development, inventory, manufacturing, expansion into new markets and building up the team, especially in the areas of customer service and marketing. Rise has about 25 employees and plans to bring on another eight this year.
In addition, Rise Gardens’ products will soon be available on Amazon — its first channel outside of its website. The company is also expanding into schools in what Adams calls “version 2.0” of the school garden.
When Rich Osborn, president and managing partner of TELUS Ventures, evaluated the indoor garden space, he told TechCrunch that Adams and his team rose to the top of the list because of their background, data experience and syndication with Amazon.
Not only was consumer demand there for these kinds of products, but the sustainability and social impact created from these kinds of investments couldn’t be overemphasized, he said.
Nishan Majarian, interim president of TELUS Agriculture and global managing director of agribusiness, said he sees a future where there is a spectrum of food growth, and crop management will be at the plant level.
“Ever since Climate Corp. was acquired by Monsanto, there has been a massive influx into agriculture to get to the next billion-dollar exit,” Majarian added. “Agrifood is the last segmented supply chain. Every crop is different, every market is different. That makes it local, complex and fertile soil — pun intended — for startups who get capital to solve those issues and scale.”