Four Questions for Founders | Farmshelf

By Newlab / March 4, 2020
Farmshelf founders Andrew Shearer, Suma Reddy, Nick Donald & JP Kyrillos

 

1. Why did you start Farmshelf? Do you remember the moment you first thought of the idea?

Andrew Shearer: I started Farmshelf because I wanted to grow my own food. I was working at Pinterest and started collecting Pinterest boards on how to grow my own food. After trying a few solutions that didn’t work well I set out to make it easy and accessible to everyone.

2. How do you see Farmshelf impacting how we live our lives?

Andrew Shearer: I see Farmshelf having the opportunity to change the way we eat and bring people back together around growing food together. If we can get everyone to grow the best tasting produce at a lower price, we can create a better future that I hope we all will enjoy more!

3. How has New York and Newlab positively impacted the development of your business?

Andrew Shearer: Without Newlab Farmshelf wouldn’t exist – full stop. The people at Newlab and NYC community we have met through it have taught and supported us in countless ways. Being in New York we get to cross paths with people from diverse backgrounds that make all of us better.

JP Kyrillos: First of all, I just like being inside of Newlab. It fosters creativity. Working amongst and being able to collaborate with so many interesting people with expertise across such a wide variety of disciplines is pretty magical. As for being in NYC, we are at the center of it all. This is where the food scene is strongest in America. This is where we have a population density and urban environment that so needs Farmshelf.

Nick Donald: Newlab has helped us to move from a prototyping-level company to one with a full production line. In the beginning, access to tools and expertise provided us the ability to rapidly produce prototypes for our own internal use and for our partners in the field to use. The personal connections we made along the way, often facilitated by Newlab, helped us as we made our way into higher-volume production and beyond. New York is a great place to build hardware right now. The community is at a size now where there is enough expertise and talent to build high-quality products, but still small enough to have foster an often nurturing environment.

Suma Reddy: We’ve been able to benefit from Newlab’s fantastic community of founders and technologists, which has allowed for constant cross-pollination of ideas. This access to sounding boards and support is important because we’re all tackling very similar challenges as we build our products and companies. Newlab has also been hugely supportive of a community I co-founded called Women Who Hardware, demonstrating their commitment to inclusive tech. The last event was held at Newlab, and  I’m really excited to continue building on this foundation with them in 2020. Stay tuned. In terms of New York, Farmshelf was fortunate to became one of the founding members of the M-Corps program, a year-long manufacturing program funded by NYSERDA (a NY State Clean Energy Funding Agency) that helped us successfully launch factories in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and with a contract manufacturer in Mexico. With that support, we built 150 farms last year. This year, we “graduated”, becoming a M-Corps mentor and M-Corps Advisory Board member, with the hope of helping build and support the larger New York hardware ecosystem. 

4. What do you see as your responsibility to make technology ethical and accessible to all?

Andrew Shearer: It is imperative that we drive cost, performance and user experience to ensure that this technology can be available to those whose lives it will change the most. We also have an ethical obligation to avoid initially launching technology with groups in which we are putting their food system or financial well being at risk.

JP Kyrillos: My 7 year old son, Caspian, told me that I owed him a swimming pool. He justified that since “I was likely part of the problem of neglecting our planet when I was younger, I should get him a pool to cool off in when it gets hotter”. Like many, I feel a sense of guilt on how we treat our planet. I am driven by an anxiousness that we must use technology in a way that can help us leave this world in a better place than we found it. As the person responsible for sales and marketing, I want to make sure that our story is seen, tasted and heard so that we can realize our longer term vision to make our tech and responsible food production available to all. 

Nick Donald: Cost is always a gateway for accessibility of technology, especially new products. We see it as our responsibility to build products that we can scale to a point where the users can be more than the fortunate few who can afford the latest products. Along the way, we hope to encourage interest in biology, plant science, electronics, coding, and more through our work with schools. By helping, even in a small way, to increase technology literacy for students at a young age, especially among those whose access might be limited, we hope to plant the seed for future leaders in our space.

Suma Reddy: I see it as 100% our responsibility to be consistently aware of the potentially far-reaching impacts of our technologies and companies. This requires us to be thoughtful about what we build, who we hire, and what strategies we pursue. We know that there are challenges ahead – that automation will displace many jobs over the next 10-15 years, that leadership in technology is pretty homogenous, and that many solutions coming out of the Valley and big Tech are solutions for the privileged. But, I also think this is a time of growing awareness and energy in our society that is demanding positive change. This will hopefully enable us – as Farmshelf co-founders – to play a positive role – by creating the jobs of the future (urban farming), by creating opportunities for inclusive tech (hiring and partnering in the right ways), and by solving real problems that impact our larger society (access to nutritious and healthy food, climate-change).

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