The appetite to become sustainable is at an all-time high. Growers, consumers and farmers alike are feeling the pressure to up the ante without putting too big a dent in their back pockets. Coupled with a wool industry that's crying out for more innovative uses for its product, there’s opportunity abound.
One Kiwi start-up is taking that opportunity and running with it.
Meet the founders Jacinta and Greg Penn of Fleecegrow. They are one of the ventures taking part in our three-month Sprout 2023 Accelerator in the Cohort XI intake.
Fleecegrow is a spin-off start-up that's created a sheep's wool growing media that's good for the planet and good for the plant. Jacinta and her husband, Greg, don’t hail from agricultural backgrounds. Jacinta’s background sits in digital technology and digital learning but living in a horticultural area, she was very aware of the challenges facing the industry.
“I shifted my focus of interest to indoor growing technology and sustainability and then started down this path of sustainable growing media,” said Jacinta.
Greg is an industrial electrician by trade and is in charge of making all the bits and pieces needed for the venture.
Zeroing in on the problem they’re solving with Fleecegrow, it can be split into two key issues. Firstly, current growing media used in commercial greenhouses are not sustainable.
“They’re either not renewable or not biodegradable. The ones that are, aren’t consistent and come from a long way away. So we’re solving the issue of the need for consistent, sustainable and locally sourced growing media. But we’re also solving a problem for the wool industry.”
While the venture is very much in its infancy, the excitement from prospective customers in the industry is huge and provides them hope that they can crack the $4billion growing medium market.
Landing a Callaghan Innovations grant is at the top of the highlights reel so far for Jacinta and gave her that moment of realisation that they were onto something.
“The market is growing every year and there's a big gap in it right now with the banning of peat in the UK and across Europe. It’s why we decided to finally put the foot on the accelerator. Even though we aren’t quite sure how, we 'll just keep moving forward.”
The aspirations for Fleecegrow are simple - Go global, locally. All while giving wool farmers a good price with an ongoing contract.
“Starting in NZ and going global. If possible go global locally - so we are solving the same problem for other countries as well. This also supports a goal to be carbon zero, which I think we can get really close to already using some solar powered equipment.”
Taking part in the Accelerator is a big step, but an important one to help them look at their business case, pricing and to create a plan of how to scale the business.
“Success would be happy growers and happy farmers.”
Taking inspiration from the founders of Xero to encourage her entrepreneurial journey and driven by the desire to make a real difference in the world, Jacinta is excited for the future of Fleecegrow, no matter what it holds.