Some people are full of great ideas. Fun ideas, crazy ideas, ideas that can change the world. In college, you might feel like you don’t have the time or the means to pursue them. And yes, it takes a lot of hard work to turn them into realities, but take Phil Weiner’s word for it: it’s worth trying.
This 23-year-old entrepreneur and his partner, John Gorby, recently raised over $100,000 on Kickstarter to fund the production of the Nourishmat, an idea that was born while they were students at the University of Maryland, where they studied economics, math, and environmental science and technology.
“It started really as a lifestyle. I’m busy, but I want to grow my own food and eat healthy. And there’s so much crap to eat,” says Weiner.
“Really, what inspired us was the fact that, I mean, I don’t want to sound like doomsday, but we’re gonna have issues when it comes to population growth and the amount of food and fertilizer that’s going to be available. We have a vast population of people growing with less and less farmers, and so if you can get people used to the idea, like, ‘Hey, one day you’re going to have to grow your own food,’ that was the goal. How to do that was really hard. We had to take difficult concepts…and pull them together into something that’s easy to use.”
That easy-to-use product is the Nourishmat, a 4’x 6’ roll out garden, complete with foolproof, pre-planted, non-GMO seedballs, weed barrier, and a built-in irrigation system. It’s honestly so easy that even that slacker from your group project could use it. The mat is labeled and perfectly spaced for each plant, with holes cut out for the simplest of simple planting. Here’s how it works: lay the mat out onto a fresh layer of soil, secure it, push the seedballs into their respective holes, and connect it to a hose. That’s it. This mind-blowingly uncomplicated idea, dreamed up by two college kids, has the potential to revolutionize the way we, as Americans, think about food.
For $65 dollars, the mat produces an average of $200 worth of produce a season. This miniature garden comes with vegetables, herbs, and flowers such as basil, carrots, lettuce, red peppers, spinach, onions, marigolds, eggplant, tomatoes, and much more. Trust me, you want this (and they’re not paying me to say that).
But Weiner isn’t just making these mats and riding them to the bank; he’s living their mission fully. Before moving out of his home in D.C. just a few weeks ago, Weiner says: “I had four Nourishmats and two Herbmats, and probably five days a week most of my dinner comes from my mat. It goes crazy. All my salads are from my mat, tomatoes…I have more arugula then I know what to do with.” He has the plots down in his new home in San Francisco, and laughs as he tells me that his friends in the District are still stealing the veggies from his old house.
“One day, I kid you not, it just hit me like a ton of bricks,” says Weiner of how he was inspired to create the Nourishmat. “I was sitting in class—actually I was more like sleeping—and I kept hearing my professor talk about victory gardens and I was like…victory, that’s it. Everyone needs to have victory gardens. And I ran out of class.”
Weiner went from running out of class to winning the Cupid’s Cup at Maryland, a business and innovation competition with $50,000 of prize money. From there, it was full steam ahead.
“We went from basement, to basement, to small warehouse, then back to basement,” recalls Weiner. “Part of that was, we did this huge 300-person beta test and the results were so great that people were like, ‘Okay, I want two of these I want five of these,’ and we were like, ‘Shoot, if these people want 1,000, what’s going to happen?”
And thus their Kickstarter campaign was born. Weiner and Gorby wanted to make sure they could afford to keep production of the Nourishmat in America. “If we’re selling in the U.S., we may as well make it in the U.S. You’ve got a huge population of people, an economy that’s struggling and a workforce that’s talented here. It’s part of our mission. If you think about it, if someone’s going to grow this in their yard it should probably be made in their backyard as well.”
Their mentality is admirable, and the product is groundbreaking—literally. In addition to making America more self-sufficient, they're doing charity work. The concept is: buy a Nourishmat, give a hungry child a meal. This is made possible by a partnership with Two Degrees Food, the first one-for-one food company. They hope to one day reach a point where retail sales of the Nourishmat can take their social initiatives to greater lengths.
“We want to increase that number eventually…to ten, fifteen, whatever we can to continue to push the social mission and prove that you can start a company and do good at the same time.”
These two guys and their incredible company should make apathetic college students everywhere want to take action of their own. Thankfully, Weiner imparted some wisdom for those of us who haven’t quite forsaken our procrastination:
“Be there. If you have a good idea, follow through with it. Any of these crazy batsh*t ideas like Snapchat can end up being anything if you just do it. Just get the f*ck outside of the classroom. What you learn in the classroom isn’t really your education; that’s schooling. Your education happens outside of the classroom, that’s where you solve problems and meet people. Get drunk and have some crazy ideas. That’s how I met my business partner. We had a beer, got drunk a couple times and oh, by the way, we’d like to solve ridiculously hard world challenges. Well, let’s get at it.”