Think a home garden is only for people with green thumbs and big backyards? Think again, urbanites: Thanks to Earth Starter's Nourishmat, growing fresh produce and herbs is as easy as laying out a mat.
The Nourishmat Garden System, a 4-by-6 mat with a planting grid and built-in irrigation, was designed in 2011 as a way to make home gardening simple and accessible to anyone with a few square feet of space and a desire to eat better.
"The Nourishmat is an easier way for people to grow food," said Phil Weiner, Earth Starter co-founder and CEO. "There's so much free gardening information out there. [We wanted] to synthesize that information into a multisensory, intuitive, colorful product that the typical American consumer would want."
In addition to providing complete planting guides for different regions of the country, Earth Starter creates pre-planted seedballs packed with nutrients and non-GMO seeds for a variety of produce and herbs. All you need to do is plant the seedball in the corresponding space on your Nourishmat, water it, and watch it grow. No digging, tilling or guesswork required.
After designing and testing the prototype themselves, Weiner and Gorby created a workable model in early 2012 and self-funded a year-long beta test, which received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the 300 testers in 22 states. The Earth Starter co-founders then entered and won the Cupid's Cup national business competition in April 2013, which allowed them to roll out a limited amount of Nourishmats, smaller Herbmats and seedballs. Though crowdfunding, the company recently raised more than $100,000 to create even more products and spread its gardening tools and knowledge to local schools and food-insecure urban areas.
Other than a few articles on smaller blogs and websites, there was very little press coverage to raise awareness about Nourishmat during its Kickstarter campaign.
"We're the ones that drove all the traffic to Kickstarter," Weiner said. "It ended up being a grassroots effort from a community that came on and backed it first. It was important that the people who backed were fully committed. We were amazed to see the outpouring [of support]."
Instead of spending their time looking for potential investors, Weiner and Gorby chose the crowdfunding route so they could focus on creating the best possible product for their customers.
"It's all about the customers," said Weiner, who advised all product-based startups to concentrate their efforts on having a good product and growing their customer base first. "If you get one bad customer feedback story, it'll spread like wildfire."
Earth Starter has made it part of its brand mission to produce its products right here in the U.S. to ensure fast turnaround and support for American manufacturers. The company is also working on donating a Nourishmat to schools and nonprofit organizations in the San Francisco and Oakland area in an effort to educate and give back to the local community.
"Whenever you do anything, it starts with a community," Weiner said. "Whether it's pushing your product into a new realm or hiring a new person, you can build tons of partnerships through community. Community is how we've grown."
Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.