SkyFounder Spotlight: Spencer Marx of SkyTeam HomeGrown
This week’s spotlight is on SkyTeam HomeGrown CEO and co-founder Spencer Marx. Through research and development, HomeGrown has created an automated, affordable, and organic home farming system called ‘The GreenThumb’ that allows users to grow a lot of food with extremely minimal effort at a very cost-effective price.
Q: What problem does your startup solve?
A: With global urbanization rapidly increasing, pressing issues like the insufficiency of our current food system. The general decline of our natural environment demand solutions today. Produce that is shipped thousands of miles not only burns a significant amount of fuel getting from A to B but also just isn’t as good as produce that is grown at home. Fresh, home-grown produce tastes better and is more nutritious. Our mission is to empower people to grow food for themselves, friends and family regardless of their age, experience level or available time.
Q: What led you to create this product?
A: I’m a senior studying sustainability and sustainable design at Berkeley. I have a background in chemistry, environmental science, and design, and through my thorough curriculum on sustainability and its surrounding theories, it was clear one of the largest challenges we, as a human race, are facing is how to produce and provide food to the masses without compromising our planet’s already devastated natural resources. I was a junior when I had the idea which, through collaboration and team-wide development, has since blossomed into HomeGrown’s farming system. Our team has been passionately pursuing making this vision a reality. It just became glaringly apparent that this was not just something that was fundamentally important, it was something we could very quickly make a difference in. If you spend enough time thinking about a solution, you can be strategic in the design approach, and create something simple and effective.
Q: What has been one of the bigger challenges you’ve faced?
A: The biggest obstacle that we’ve faced hasn’t been overcome yet, but it is something we are in the process of addressing. It’s the combination between the customers and the product; the crossroads called “customer-informed design.” Great products are informed by customers; it doesn’t normally happen the other way around. Sure, you can set a trend with a new product that nobody’s ever heard of, but if you’re giving something to people that they actually need, a fundamental and functional part of their life, it’s necessary to have their input. A challenge for us is figuring out how to not only get that input, but making sure it’s meaningful as well.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Future goals for startup?
A: In five years, ideally we would have gone to market. We have visions for additional expansions to our product. Not necessarily different products, but farming systems that are more aligned with new types of customers. Right now we aim to partner up with individuals and possibly restaurants for our beta-testing. Down the road, we hope to be able to deliver products geared for more massive food production; meant for grocery stores, community gardens, commercial buildings, and even professional farmers. In the meantime, we are working to polish our designs and incorporate consumer feedback to ensure our product is of the highest quality and can have the most impact.
Q: How did you hear about SkyDeck? Why did you decide to come here?
A: Mostly word of mouth. Brian Bordley, CEO of SkyDeck alumni Eucl3d, the video game 3D printing platform company, originally introduced us to SkyDeck. He spoke very highly of the program and it was immediately clear membership offered companies an incredible opportunity to bring their visions to life. We were thrilled to be accepted and are grateful for having access to such a vibrant, collaborative, and resource-abundant community.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who’s trying to be an entrepreneur?
A: Make sure you’re passionate about what you do, because you’re going to sink a lot of time, a lot of sweat, and, if you’re doing it with a lot of people, a lot of heartache into your company. Managing personal relationships can be tough; however, if you’re passionate about your vision and your product, then it’s worth it. The thing that’s helped us power through a lot of the challenges we’ve faced is our vision: we are driven because we believe our work can have a truly positive impact on the world. It’s not about making money for us so much as it is getting something out there that can empower others and help protect and promote our planet.
Q: What gets you out of bed in the morning?
A: This is exciting stuff. I’m always excited to continue learning here. What we have here is a collaborative community, so it’s always an adventure coming up to SkyDeck. That and coffee.