For ClimateTalks: Nuravine
By Shelby Thompson, Alex Babich, & Adrian Logan
Nuravine is an environmental automation company serving the indoor farming and cultivation market. They develop sensor and actuation devices to monitor and maintain indoor environments while collecting data and optimizing for energy and yield targets. The Alchemist dosing system is designed to integrate with Elixir pumps that are capable of maintaining water conditions using corrective additives and nutrients.
This spring, Shelby Thompson, Senior Community Manager at SecondMuse, sat down (virtually) with Nuravine’s CEO and Founder Alex Babich and CTO Adrian Logan to catch up with this Scale For ClimateTech Cohort One alum. We chatted about all things hydroponics – the legalization of marijuana in New York State, their move from Manhattan to Kingston, NY, and the state of their first product the Alchemist – a hydroponic watering monitor that collects pH, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, temperature and oxidation reduction potential data – officially on the market. For those of you who are not familiar with hydroponics – this is a common indoor farming solution that skips soil and funky weather patterns (often caused by climate change) by utilizing nutrient-rich water filtration systems to support plant growth indoors.
Here are the highlights of our discussion.
Let’s do a little bit of “Where Are They Now” – Tell us about what you set out to accomplish when joining the Scale For ClimateTech (previously known as M-Corps) program back in 2018, the progress you’ve made since then, and what are focusing on today?
We joined Scale For ClimateTech (M-CORPS) to learn how to take our prototype and turn it into a finished product. The program introduced us to a wide range of mentors who had experience in many facets of the manufacturing process. We also had the opportunity to connect with manufacturing companies in New York State. With the information from this program we were able to make significant progress on our product and get systems in the hands of trial customers. Since graduation, we have continued to apply and expand on what we have learned and to this date have sold almost 100 systems to customers all over the world. We are now cash flow positive and continue to expand our operations by improving our products, and growing our customer base and our team.
What are some of the biggest challenges of running a small business in this competitive market?
One of the biggest challenges for us is having too few people wearing too many hats. As much as I would like to spend most of my time on product development, there are so many other aspects of the business that must be attended to, especially dealing with current and prospective customers. Once we have more time and revenue we will be able to hire engineers that can be singularly focused on product development or sales people that can bring in more revenue which will allow us to become a larger company and expand our footprint in the market.
What do your customers say about how the Elixir and Alchemist have improved their indoor farming and cultivation?
We have a video testimonial where a farmer said that implementing the Alchemist has increased his yields by 15% and has saved him 2-3 hours of work each day. This has allowed his team to expand their business and work on more technically sophisticated activities. Other customers have told us that they now have more time to spend with their families and have been more comfortable going on a vacation.
As hydroponic farmers are your main customer base, what did the news of the legalization of mariijuana in New York State do for your customers and your business (if anything)?
Legalization in New York state is expanding our market size which is one of the best things that can happen to a business. The fact that we have developed a product that can go into these new facilities is great for us, and will be great for our customers as well because it will be easier for us to provide in-person services if needed.
How do you see your product(s) working to support climate action as we aim to fight climate change?
Our product is part of an automation platform which is designed to more effectively utilize resources which will not only save $ for the farmers, but will reduce the amount of CO2 produced generating electricity to operate farms. Furthermore we are supporting the efforts to move to much more efficient farming practices though vertical farming, which the main drawback to reducing CO2 is the high energy consumption. If indoor farms were supplied by renewable energy it would have a substantial impact on their sustainability. Eventually we will be building research facilities and partnering with cultivators to run highly automated indoor farms which are entirely run off of solar panels. We can utilize the waste products to feed and water outdoor plants which can be grown in the additional space that is saved by using vertical farming. These plants would be able to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and/or produce food. Although we would like to fight climate change, we as a species are accelerating climate change every year. We must be able to produce food as our population increases and the amount of arable land decreases due to unsustainable farming practices and climate change. Indoor farming is a way to sustain ourselves in spite of climate change.
Any advice for new climate tech hardware founders?
Have a big vision of how you are significantly going to have an impact on the world, it should be a really long term vision that you are very excited about and can dream about every day. In order to keep the dream alive you need to figure out how you can sell something that solves a problem for customers and is on the path to creating your vision. If you want to actually have a big impact on the environment your company has to be really large, so you will need to generate a lot of revenue. You don’t need to worry about solving climate change in the beginning because your business is too small, so focus on generating revenue and building skills that will be useful to you as you scale your company. The biggest impact you can have at a personal level is eating a plant based diet and using as little fossil fuels as possible. Also as you are growing, make sure you are continually reminding yourself of why you are doing what you are doing because you don’t want to have a revenue generating company that has lost sight of why it was started.