Tuesday October 4, 2016 0 comments
FORT COLLINS -- Healthier plants and a healthier environment.
That’s the goal and mantra at Growcentia, a Fort Collins-based startup created by three Colorado State University microbiologists who saw a way to do just that.
The microbiologists developed proprietary technology that identifies and applies nature’s best microbes to improve nutrient availability to plants, helping them to grow strong naturally.
“We developed a platform to select these microbes, looking at specific traits that are desired,” says Colin Bell, one of Growcentia’s trio of founders.
Other founders are Matt Wallenstein and Rich Conant, and Gregg Steinberg serves as the company’s CEO.
The aim of the researchers was to help plants – from vegetables, to grains, to flowers to turf – unlock the phosphorus in soil that is essential to increasing yield and overall plant health.
The road to a product that would accomplish the phosphorus release turned out to be a relatively fast track.
“Our first product went from lab concept to on the market within 15 months,” said Bell.
The trio began work on their product – now known as Mammoth P® – in early 2014 and had a “minimum viable product” by the end of April 2014.
“By the end of the Summer 2014, we had data that showed it was effective across many different plants,” said Bell.
Like some other famous startups, Growcentia got its start in Bell’s garage. In early 2015, the company began to seek investment capital and found it with San Francisco-based M34 Capital.
By April 2015, the company had the seed capital it needed and by August it was selling Mammoth P®.
“It’s now in 31 states and the District of Columbia and in 275-plus stores across the country,” says Steinberg.
Bell said Mammoth P® is a microbial soil additive with four microbes that were selected for their ability to cycle nutrients and deliver them to plants, with phosphorus being the main target nutrient.
Bell said up to 70 percent of the phosphorus applied as fertilizer immediately becomes unavailable to plants because it binds with soil.
The soil becomes saturated but much of it remains unavailable to plants, he said, resulting in waterway pollution and algae blooms in ponds and lakes.
Mammoth P unbinds the phosphorus so it can be used by plants, Bell said.
“We like to say we’re bringing nature back to agriculture,” he said.
One major market so far for Growcentia is the legal cannabis industry, which relies heavily on hydroponic fast-growth systems.
“It was a great place to start because it’s the largest legal cash crop per square kilometer in the world,” Steinberg said.
Garrett Swanson, assistant head grower at Infinite Wellness marijuana dispensary in Fort Collins, said he’s been using Mammoth P for about eight months and is very satisfied with its performance.
“We use it in all stages of plant growth,” he said. “Everything has been growing great. It works with our whole nutrient line.
“It’s a great technology.”
Swanson said he would recommend Mammoth P “to all of our growers, my neighbors and friends – I’d recommend it to anybody.”
Not fertilizer alternative
Bell said Mammoth P should not be viewed as an alternative to the use of fertilizers.
“This is an additive,” he said. “It doesn’t replace fertilizers – it is synergistic with them.”
Bell said Growcentia is not trying to get farmers to change their crop management regimes – at least not initially.
“What we recommend is don’t stop anything – just add Mammoth P to your feeding regimen,” he said, noting that yield increases of 16 percent in cannabis, 20 percent for strawberries and 30 percent for tomatoes have been verified with the product.
“Farmers don’t like to change their routine,” he said. “But it’s relatively easy to ask farmers to add something if it’s going to increase their yield.”
And – over time – Growcentia hopes those farmers will reduce their use of fertilizer when the see the ongoing efficacy of Mammoth P.
Demonstrating that efficacy is the biggest data collection objective for the company currently, Bell notes, as soil conditions vary widely across the nation.
“Showing efficacy is a huge current effort for the company, especially in light of the different soil types and climates,” he said. “When growers see the results, they adopt our product.”
Bell said Growcentia is a “data and discovery-driven company” that talked to hundreds of companies on its way to marketing a product.
“We try our best to embrace what we know and understand what we don’t know,” he said.
Help along the way
Bell said Growcentia had some big assists in its startup growth, getting help from the National Science Foundation’s I-Corp program, the Village Capital Accelerator program and also being incubated at Innosphere in Fort Collins.
It also received a boost from CSU Ventures, the technology commercialization arm of Colorado State University.
“It is great to see innovative ideas launched from the laboratory become innovative products that are making an impact. Growcentia has such a passionate team and is a prime example of how quickly this transition can occur,” said Todd Headley, CSU Ventures director.
“It was a critical time for us,” Bell recalls. “We didn’t have the market development background and it was a big blind spot for us. It’s been really important to the success of the company.”
Growcentia now has about 25 employees and will move into a new facility in Fort Collins in October.
Bell said the growing company remains focused on its original mission.
“We were interested in feeding the world more sustainably,” he said. “This led us down a pathway to a product fairly quickly.”