Urban Harvest StartUp Showcase Team to Use Hydroponics to Give Back to Local Community

Urban Harvest StartUp Showcase Team to Use Hydroponics to Give Back to Local Community

Startup team urban harvest

Anthony Mastrocola ’19 and Michael Spillane ’19

Anthony Mastrocola ’19 and Michael Spillane ’19 are two entrepreneurs who will compete for startup funding in the Fairfield StartUp Showcase on April 25.

One student’s hobby of growing fresh, clean plants in his dorm room has now turned into an entrepreneurial venture geared towards giving back to the local Bridgeport community. Anthony Mastrocola ’19, an accounting and marketing double major, and Michael Spillane ’19, a biology major, have been selected to pitch their business idea, Urban Harvest, at this year’s Fairfield StartUp Showcase. Urban Harvest uses the practice of hydroponics to create healthy produce to be sold at a reasonable price in local communities.

Mastrocola describes the inspiration for this idea as twofold. “I have always been interested in homesteading and the idea of owning a small farm. This led to my exploration of YouTube videos and podcasts where I learned about hydroponics,” he said. “Around the same time, I was taking a social entrepreneurship class in which we were tasked with solving big world issues through entrepreneurship; my issue was world hunger.” Mastrocola created his first hydroponics system in his dorm room and the idea sparked from there.

The business idea for Urban Harvest has quite a few social components, starting with hydroponics -- a method of growing produce in a water medium instead of soil. According to Mastrocola, hydroponics “adds a whole new dimension to the locality and seasonality of agriculture,” because there are no limits to where and when you can grow. With hydroponics, nitrogenous runoff and water use are cut down. This is significant because many fertilizers use nitrogen, which forms a chain reaction where it enters the soil, and runs off into waterways where it eventually creates damaging hypoxic dead zones.

Another social component is aimed at closing the divide to food access in Fairfield County, specifically in Bridgeport. Many individuals and families are unable to access healthy produce easily due to issues such as transportation and availability. The goal of Urban Harvest is to work with local organizations, such as the Green Village Initiative in Bridgeport, to grow produce that can be sold at affordable rates and provide Bridgeport residents with a healthy food option.

So how does the business model work? Currently in their dorm room, Mastrocola and Spillane have developed a deep-water culture system, which holds water in an air pump, then circulates the water with oxygen and allows the plants to grow due to constant contact with the water. Their current output is six sustainable plants, including parsley, basil, and lettuce. Mastrocola and Spillane say that produce created by hydroponics is much cleaner than produce grown in soil because it has less contact with dirt and other grime. More importantly, hydroponic produce grows at about twice the rate of soil produce. The hope is to bring fully-grown, fresh produce to the Showcase so that the investor panel will be able to see, feel, and smell what Urban Harvest is capable of growing.

Mastrocola and Spillane have been working with a variety of mentors, including Mark Leclair, PhD, professor of economics, and many active members of the Bridgeport community. Their business model is dependent upon growing produce that the community actually wants -- and so communication is essential. While the focus of Urban Harvest is on families, the entrepreneurs would like for this produce to be available to any community member seeking a healthy alternative.

When asked about their excitement for the Showcase, Mastrocola explained that as a returning competitor, he has learned from last year the importance of starting a business that is cost effective. “We are not starting large; the goal is to start small and keep it cost effective to show investors we are serious about achieving growth over time, because we understand it will not happen overnight.”

To see Urban Harvest pitch at the StartUp Showcase be sure to save your seat at the event on Thursday, April 25, 2019. 

Tags:  Dolan School,  Top Stories


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