“We realized there was a need and a lot of community interest. We knew people would love it in this area with local sourcing of food becoming popular,” Malone said.
Malone enlisted Welch, a fellow Enactus member who also comes from a farming and gardening background. Welch presented the project in his Social Entrepreneurship class and then suggested they take it to the Changemaker Challenge, a student pitch competition designed for “innovative ventures or projects that respond to a social, economic, environmental or justice issue of (the students’) choice.” Malone worked on generating a business case study and Welch created the presentation for the competition.
In November 2017, they made their pitch, which resulted in great success. SureGrow took one of four top prizes at the competition and was awarded a $2,500 grant to go toward the goal they presented: the purchase of two cabinet-sized hydroponic units that would produce larger quantities of vegetables.
“The Changemaker Challenge was a turning point for me,” recalled Malone. “After working on that business plan and seeing Will presenting it … not only being selected to receive funding but talking with all of the individuals who reached out to us, asked us questions and got excited about it was a great feeling.“
The goal for the company is to create a sustainable, open community garden where people will not only be able to grow their own food, but receive training and education on indoor gardening as well. The owners hope to sell their vegetables at local farmer’s markets and to businesses and restaurants looking to capitalize on the popularity of farm-to-table food. Sales will help finance their community-based efforts and eventually expand to more locations.
Malone, Welch and Rago have been working diligently toward proof of concept. Malone took the initiative to set up a hydroponic unit in his home, along with a raised bed right outside his front door that was donated by Erich Schott of Buckingham, Ill. He planted plants traditionally in the soil in front of his home as well, testing whether the alternative methods would produce vegetables as efficiently as the old-fashioned way.