Nuravine LLC is developing The Indoor Farming Automation Platform of the Future, a technology that enables indoor farms to operate more efficiently, reduce input costs, and create optimal environments for cultivation. The Kingston-based company’s first product, The Elixir, automates water nutrient management and analysis for hydroponic systems.
Nuravine asked FuzeHub and the Manufacturing & Technology Enterprise Center (MTEC), the MEP center serving the mid-Hudson Valley, for assistance with improving its prototype and preparing for manufacturing. With three FuzeHub grants totaling $62,000 and engineering and manufacturing process support from MTEC, Nuravine is preparing for a product launch in mid-2020 and already has 50 pre-orders.
Indoor farming has the potential to become far more efficient than conventional agriculture. Alex Babich, Founder and CEO of Nuravine, said it is possible to grow on one acre of an indoor farm what you can grow on 100 acres of land, given the ability to stack plants, control the environment, and farm all year round. Furthermore, indoor farming is the only option in some regions, such as deserts and inner cities, and will become more vital because of climate change and population growth.
Nuravine’s mission is to help commercial growers optimize their indoor operations. Many indoor farms rely on hydroponics, where plants are grown in water without dirt. Nutrients and other solutions are added to the water for food, to maintain pH balance, and to prevent the growth of bacteria. The Nuravine Elixir uses sensors to continuously monitor the water, adding solutions in the proper ratios at the right times to ensure plants get what they need when they need it.
Robert Incerto, Director of Engineering at MTEC, called Nuravine’s technology “extremely innovative” and said that “there is very little out there that does all this monitoring that they do.” Furthermore, Nuravine is developing a number of other features that Incerto believes will make The Elixir even more attractive to commercial growers, including those in the burgeoning hemp industry.
Babich and partner Adrian Logan, Nuravine’s Chief Technology Officer, started the company in 2017, while they were students in an entrepreneurship program at City College of New York. Babich and Logan then developed a prototype. In January 2018, they were accepted into the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) customer discovery program.
Babich said that through the course of the I-Corps program, the partners conducted more than 240 customer interviews, visiting farms and talking to growers about their needs. Nuravine now needed the resources and knowledge to take that information and use it to enhance its technology. FuzeHub and MTEC offered the right kind of support, so it was what Babich calls “the perfect time for us to go down that path.”
As recent college graduates, Babich and Logan had little money with which to fund their research and development. They needed grant funding to propel Nuravine forward. They also required help with engineering and manufacturing processes, specifically enhancing the design of their prototype, reducing production costs and turnaround time, deciding which components could be made in-house, and finding suppliers for those components that needed to be purchased instead.
Nuravine’s first encounter with FuzeHub came in October 2018, when it attended a FuzeHub Solutions Forum in New York City–a match-maker style event where manufacturers meet directly with hand-picked business and technology resources in one-on-one consultations. Babich said this helped the company immensely by connecting it with M-Corps, NYSERDA’s cleantech energy program. Nuravine spent the better part of 2019 with M-Corps, visiting manufacturing facilities, learning about their processes, and gaining valuable insights into how to manufacture products and sell them to customers.
Shortly after attending the Solutions Forum, Nuravine asked MTEC for support with enhancing its prototype, which it already was selling. MTEC went to work with Babich and Logan on the design for manufacturability for a second-generation of The Elixir. Nuravine also applied for and won a $10,000 Innovation Incentive Prize for Food, Agriculture, and Beverage from the Jeff Lawrence Innovation Fund, which FuzeHub administers.
Julianne Clouthier, Industry Engagement Manager for FuzeHub, oversaw the Innovation Incentive Prize and described it as targeted to small and early-stage companies with innovative solutions that could help the agricultural, food and beverage processing industries become more profitable, more efficient, safer, and/or more environmentally friendly. She said that Nuravine, whose application noted helping farmers increase their yield by 10 percent, “checked all the boxes.”
FuzeHub’s $10,000 Innovation Incentive Prize supported Nuravine’s work with MTEC on a printed circuit board for two components of The Elixer: the “brain,” which controls the system, and the pumps, which connect to the brain to add the nutrients to the water. In early 2019, MTEC applied for and won a FuzeHub Manufacturing Grant, also part of the Jeff Lawrence Fund, for $44,043 on behalf of Nuravine.
In April 2019, Nuravine attended FuzeHub’s Build4Scale AIM Onshore event and received an $8,000 Build4Scale grant. Kim Lloyd, Director of Special Projects for FuzeHub, said the purpose of the Build4Scale fund was to assist cleantech and other hardware manufacturers to improve their manufacturing readiness. She noted that Nuravine had beta-testers–in the form of farmers–who were waiting to try their product. “The funds helped Nuravine accomplish this short-term goal,” she said, “and ultimately assisted them long-term by addressing the fast-growing local urban farming and indoor cultivation revolution happening in New York State.”
Incerto described the relationship between MTEC and Nuravine as strong and positive, involving a lot of back and forth and debates about the best way to do things. “I think we ended up with a better product as a result,” he added.
Babich said the FuzeHub grants and MTEC’s support were instrumental in helping Nuravine “get the ball rolling” on starting a successful business. He said the Innovation Grant largely supported R&D and “figuring out the circuitry,” while the Manufacturing Grant and Build4Scale Grant helped with “putting everything all together, putting the finishing touches on the circuit board and making the first units.”
Nuravine is still selling its original product and speaking with customers to integrate their feedback into a second-generation product. The company will use the remainder of its $44,000 FuzeHub Manufacturing Grant to prepare for volume manufacturing, including ordering new circuit boards and purchasing molds in which it will cast enclosures. The revised product must be tested and certified to ensure it meets applicable standards. If all goes well, Nuravine will begin selling an enhanced version of The Elixir soon.