When entrepreneurship meets agriculture, you get an ‘accelerator’ teaching ‘vertical’ farming

Flush from raising $5 million, a “vertical farm” accelerator is getting ready to conquer the world.

The company, according to this Fast Company story, is called Square Roots and it has a “campus” in Brooklyn made from climate-controlled shipping containers where 10 urban farmer entrepreneurs have learned the ins and outs of growing food over the past nine and a half months. The goal: compete against the large industrial farmers that dominate our food chain. The 10 initial student entrepreneurs are all on track to graduate in October and the company is planning to use its recently raised capital to expand to other cities.

“We wanted to come up with a model that scaled small urban farming, so literally every consumer of food can have a direct relationship with a farmer,” Square Roots co-founder and chief executive Tobias Peggs told Fast Company (the company’s other founder is Kimbal Musk, whose brother is…yes, that guy).

How hard is urban farming? Seems pretty hard. To graduate from the program the entrepreneurs each need to learn how to grow food in glorified shipping containers, complete with irrigation systems and LED lights. The accelerator provides them with coaches and experts to help them with the process, and to teach them business building skills so that ultimately they can start up their own urban farming enterprises. “The hope is there will be tens of thousands of new businesses that end up being formed,” Peggs says.

It’s not all about selling food. Some of the entrepreneurs are working on a farm-to-desk delivery program while others are working on projects that cover everything from growing fresh greens for low-income neighborhoods to developing better lighting for indoor farming.

The accelerator makes its money by taking a cut of the entrepreneurs’ sales. The strategy gives both the entrepreneurs and the people at Square Roots the motivation to succeed. Peggs says his business is successful if the farmers are successful and that he and his staff wake up every morning thinking of ways to help his students profit.

Interested in becoming an urban farming entrepreneur? Square Roots is taking applications for its next class right now. It’s a hot field. In 2016, 500 applicants applied to the company for just the 10 spots.

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