Image Credit: Lena McBean
Innovation and entrepreneurship are major institutional priorities for the University of Maryland, stimulating exciting research, business ideas, and product development for the benefit of our global citizenry. The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is becoming a major part of this conversation here on campus, having formally launched its Agriculture Innovation to Commercialization program in 2016 and the buzzworthy AgEnterprise Challenge, an exciting “Shark Tank”-style student team competition. On February 27th, the college hosted its 3rd annual challenge, where student teams offered new business ideas addressing problems or opportunities in agriculture, natural resources, and environmental sustainability. Third time was certainly the charm for senior Michael Wijesinghe, whose new venture, Green Roots, took home top prize of $2500, earning recognition as one of the University’s next big fearless ideas.
Green Roots is a venture that offers year-round hydroponically grown fresh produce, grown locally by students, for students. Hydroponics is the practice of growing plants without soil and instead suspending the roots in water with the appropriate combination of nutrients. Led by Wijesinghe and fellow senior Michael Malcolm, Green Roots produces all of its food right here on campus in the Research Greenhouse Complex, ensuring freshness, quality, easy access, and a price point projected to undercut competitors like Whole Foods by half. It is at its core a CSA model for UMD’s campus, offered weekly with a subscription cost of $20 per month.
“We are very committed to food access and affordability for our student body. At the end of the day, we are all passionate about growing food and feeding the world, and Green Roots supports both of those goals,” said Wijesinghe.
This is Wijesinghe’s third straight year entering the competition, but the prior two years have been in support of separate business ventures. 2019 marks his first victory and his last opportunity to compete before graduation.
“My other products were designed for people to grow things themselves, and I realized that people weren’t necessarily ready for that responsibility. Green Roots fills that void and puts all of the production work in our hands, while still giving customers the ability to eat in a sustainable and healthy fashion. It’s a win-win,” explains Wijesinghe.
For those interested in participating in the CSA, Green Roots is scaled to offer five pounds of produce per week to each subscriber, with the ability to support 400 shares per month. They are looking to expand operations and find new ways to grow produce more efficiently. One of their methods is vertical integration, which generates a higher yield without requiring additional greenhouse space.
If interested in learning more about the CSA or participating in Green Roots operations, please connect with Wijesinghe and Malcolm through Facebook @umdhydroponics.
The AgEnterprise Challenge offers additional cash awards for second and third place, as well as an audience choice award.
Second place - Sedipot
Algae-based biodegradable pots and planters made from extracted water pollutants
Third place - Farmatronix
Artificial intelligence (AI) - assisted hardware and software solutions to automate and manage greenhouses and urban farms
Audience Choice - Green Roots
Congratulations to all our participants, and we look forward to the 2020 AgEnterprise Challenge and a new crop of dedicated entrepreneurs!