Each week, staff writer Paul Wood talks with a high-tech difference-maker. This week, meet GABRIEL JAMES PRICE, a University of Illinois Ph.D. canadidate in ecology evolution and conservation biology who co-created the Earnest Earth startup, which works with farmers to "eliminate their agricultural waste (such as manure and vegetable waste) and convert it into an all-natural biofertilizer with our earthworm-and-microbe-powered bioreactors." It sounds completely win-win.
Tell us about your company.
We partner with small farms to eliminate their agricultural waste (such as manure and vegetable waste) and convert it into an all natural biofertilizer with our earthworm and microbe-powered bioreactors. We then sell this biofertilizer on behalf of the farmers giving them the opportunity to make money from their waste. Additionally gardeners that purchase our biofertilizer recieve the benefits of improving their soil health, supplying their plants with beneficial microbes, and also boosting their plant growth.
How did you get this idea?
I attended an entrepreneurship event called "54" here with my founding partner Darell Teague. We worked on developing sustainable agricultural solutions, and met with Ken Taylor who pushed us to think bigger. While talking with him he made us realize that we could theoretically convert waste directly on farms into fertilizer using naturally occurring processes. After that we have just been building from there.
Who else is on your team?
The team consists of Darell Teague, who is the co-founder; Eugene Yoon who is helping develop the mechanics of our bioreactors ;and Ganpath Karl, who is working on the sensor and data technology for our bioreactors.
How do you find small farms to partner with?
We already knew several farmers with waste problems going into this, but we have been finding new farms by Googling farms and then interviewing them. These new farms that we interview usually tell us of a few other farms that we can talk to.
What do you intend to do next?
We intend to start installing our reactors onto several test farms in the area and start isolating microbes so that we can patent microbe blends for agricultural use.
How has IllinoisVentures helped you?
They have provided mentoring and critical feedback to help push us to make an effective business plan. They have really help us focus on what is important for making our startup successful.
What's your best advice for someone who's starting up?
For anyone who is starting up, it is important to find a good team of mentors and people that have experience with business. This will give you a wealth of experience to work with and help you put your start up and goals in perspective. It is also vital that you develop a service or product that you understand your target consumer for, because without a well-defined consumer segment you likely do not have a viable startup.
Did you ever make any mistakes that you learned from in your early years?
Where to start. I have made a number of mistakes during this such as underestimating time costs, emailing people to talk to them instead of calling them, and wrongly assuming what is important for consumers before talking to them at first. Though any good entrepreneur tries to learn from their mistakes and change their actions so that they are geared towards success. So now I usually triple my estimates for how long it will take me to do things, call people instead of emailing them, and I always interview at least five potential consumers before I make any assumptions about what they want in a product.
TECH TIDBITS ... from GABRIEL JAMES PRICE
Online presence: We have a website agrimyag.com. (Our name has changed since we made the website, but we will be changing the website name after we are able to buy the new domain name.)
Favorite app: Google Calendar
On Facebook I follow ... Sustane, Monsanto,and Jobe's; really I follow any and all of my potential competitors and consumers.
Book or Kindle? What are you reading right now? Right now I only have time to read industry-related information such as trends in organic farming and academic papers on microbes and waste management. The last book that I read for leisure though was "Master and Margarita."
Do you have any wearable electronics? Nope, but I always carry around a notebook and pencil to keep me organized.
Do you have an entrepreneur hero? It might be a little cliché, but my heroes would have to be Elon Musk and John Deere.