Rob and Nate met at Columbia University in New York City in early 2016. Nate was trying to find an ‘in’ into the Engineering school in search of a bright engineer to partner with on a food business he was eager to start when he came across an event being hosted by the Earth Institute.
Not knowing quite what to expect from an ‘Earth Institute’ event but wanting to make a good impression, Nate donned his favorite tie-dye button-down, packed a kale smoothy and carrot sticks and headed off (ok, we may have made that bit up). The highlight of the event by far was a presentation on ‘Next Generation Green Infrastructure’ by a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow named Rob Elliott (yes, that’s THE Rob). The guy clearly knew a thing or two about growing plants.
A couple of weeks later Rob and Nate met at Nous cafe in the Philosophy building, where they bonded over a mutual love of coffee, interest in urban agriculture and belief that there existed a smarter way of designing our food systems. The concept sketches began, and brainstorming meetings continued in the weeks and months that followed.
By the end of spring, Nate and Rob figured they might be onto something with this urban agriculture idea, and decided to form a company called Ernt (a derivation of ‘ernte’, which means harvest in German). Although ‘Ernt’ is a kinda funny sounding name, they liked the idea of using an abstract word so that when the inevitable ‘pivot’ occurred and they decided to build a dating app for German lumberjacks they wouldn’t need to change their name. Just kidding. Sort of.
Eager to move their idea forward, they applied and were accepted into the Summer Startup Track being run by the Business School’s Lang Center for Entrepreneurship over the summer. The Summer Startup Track was a great opportunity to connect with a bunch of experienced people in the rapidly growing NYC start-up scene. Nate and Rob spent most of the summer doing a ton of research on the customer, the market, and the science of hydroponics and urban agriculture.
The initial product focus was a counter-size grow kit the produced 3-15 plants of various plants and varieties, however recognizing that this was an increasingly crowded space they chose to change the strategy somewhat in early 2017 and instead focused their near-term efforts on the development of the World’s Smallest Garden. This product does an incredibly efficient job of solving the #1 cause of house-plant fatality globally; forgetful owners who neglect to water them! The World’s Smallest Garden lets plants water themselves.
In March 2017 ‘Ernt’ changed its name to Urban Leaf. Nate and Rob have thoroughly enjoyed not having to explain their funny name to people ever since. The team won Columbia Venture Community’s Spring Demo night in March 2017 and were finalists in the Entrepreneurship Club’s Startup Challenge. They are currently working on the launch of the World’s Smallest Garden via Kickstarter – commencing May 22.
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