Power Pitch

Tank to table: Start-up bets on fish poop to grow dinner

Start-up bets on fish poop to grow dinner
Start-up bets on fish poop to grow dinner

This start-up is giving new meaning to having a green thumb. But you need a fish tank.

"We've designed the Grove Ecosystem, an intelligent indoor gardening appliance about the size of a bookshelf," said Grove co-founder Gabe Blanchet. "The ecosystem uses aquaponics, which is where fish and plants live together in symbiosis to grow delicious organic food."

Greek roots

Grove started in an unlikely setting — a frat house.

Blanchet's Sigma Chi fraternity brother at MIT, Jamie Byron, built an aquaponics system by fastening PVC piping together. He then created a setup where the nitrogen rich fish poop fertilized the plants, while in turn the plants cleaned the water for the fish. Blanchet said he admitted being skeptical, but soon enough they had leafy greens, peppers, cucumbers, even tomatoes trellising up the side of the unit.

Grove Ecosystem
Source: Grove

The duo got 50 early adopters in the Boston area to test their first aquaponics system. Feedback from this first run led to their latest version. The unit stands about 3 feet wide and has an adjustable height of 4.5 to 6 feet. It includes a fish tank, two growing areas, plus an area for supplies. According to the website, the unit is two times more productive per square foot than outdoor gardening.

Growing your own food in your home is going to be an industry that we're helping to spawn here.
Gabe Blanchet
Grove co-founder & CEO

Grove also has a free mobile app that guides users through the growing process, lets them purchase supplies and even control features such as water and light levels.

Growing Grove

Blanchet said a limited set of new units will be available on Grove's Kickstarter campaign at $2,700, a 40 percent discount off the expected retail price of $4,500. On top of the initial cost, users will have to then purchase supplies. Blanchet estimates that to be as much as $20 per month for fish, seeds, nutrients, etc.

New York Angels board member Alicia Syrett said while she is excited about the indoor gardening space, she had concerns about the cost noting there are other more affordable options on the market. For instance, Back to the Roots Water Garden which can fit on your kitchen counter, is available starting at $60. ECO-Cycle Aquaponics Kit, designed to sit on an existing 12-24 inch aquarium, retails for as low as $245.

The Grove Ecosystem expected retail price is $4,500.
Source: Grove

"I think what we've done is build a lot of technology that will make our system more delightful to use over the long term," Blanchet said. "One of the other main differences is that our system is much larger and you can grow a significant amount of food for you and your family."

According to the Blanchet, the units are made from sustainable bamboo wood, use the most efficient LED lighting, and are made in the USA. "We treat our Massachusetts-based manufacturing and assembly team with the wages and respect they deserve instead of contracting out to the lowest bidder," Blanchet told CNBC.

Venture capitalist Will Rosensweig, dean and executive director of The Food Business School at the Culinary Institute of America, said finding customers beyond the early adopters could pose a challenge for Grove. But Blanchet said Grove is cultivating a brand new trend. "Growing your own food in your home is going to be an industry that we're helping to spawn here. When that happens, real estate developers, interior designers, architects will design these right into kitchens."

So far the company has raised $2.15 million from Galvanize Ventures, Gary Vaynerchuk, Upfront Ventures and Tim Ferriss.

— Comments, questions, suggestions? We'd love to hear from you. Follow us @CNBCPowerPitch and join the #PowerPitch conversation