Less fertilizer, more food? Growcentia advances sustainable agriculture

The sustainable agriculture movement is gaining ground with Growcentia, Inc., a new company providing an innovative solution to reduce environmental impact and boost crop health.

Growcentia, now on the cusp of going to market, is a venture that its co-founder and Principal Investigator, Dr. Matthew D. Wallenstein has created in part from lessons he learned from the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (NSF I-Corps™) program. The I-Corps™ program was created by the NSF in 2011 to increase the likelihood that academic research it has funded will succeed in the marketplace.

Dr. Wallenstein describes his company’s technology as “a suite of natural bacteria that have an exceptional ability to make soil nutrients more available to plants.”

Typically, fertilizers are added to the soil to increase the amount of nutrients, such as phosphorous, that are available to plants. Growcentia has developed a microbial stimulant, Elevate-P, that increases the bioavailability of phosphorous and other nutrients in the soil, leading to more efficient fertilizer use.

The majority of beneficial microbes currently on the market live in or on plant tissues and interact directly with plants. These stimulants have proven to be very effective, but their efficacy is very plant-specific. The unique feature of Growcentia’s suite of microbes is that they are universal. Instead of interacting with the plant, the microbes interact with the soil so that Elevate-P can be applied to different crops. This innovation separates Growcentia’s solution from current biostimulants on the market by helping a wider diversity of crops with less of an environmental impact while using minimal chemical inputs.

Dr. Wallenstein began his entrepreneurial journey in NSF I-Corps™. He and his co-founder, Colin Bell, first entered the I-Corps program in 2014, as part of the University of Michigan’s summer cohort. Dr. Wallenstein explains,

“Without a doubt, the I-Corps™ experience was absolutely transformational. Without it, we would have been on a very different track and probably would have gone down some roads we shouldn’t have in terms of pursuing markets that probably weren’t our best opportunity.”

Watch a video of Growcentia’s I-Corps™ experience.

Immediately after completing the I-Corps™ program, Wallenstein’s team took part in two other vigorous venture deveElevate-P Container - bacterial solution for sustainable agriculturelopment programs. The first was a VentureWell-sponsored E-Teams and Village Capital joint agricultural accelerator program in Louisville, KY. Dr. Wallenstein credits this experience with helping his team refine its business model.

In its current stage of venture development, Growcentia is part of an incubator funded through public/private partnerships to foster technological innovation in Colorado. The incubator, Innosphere, is helping the company connect to distribution channels.

Growcentia has received $500,000 in venture capital from M34 Capital, Inc. He and Bell, now the Executive Vice President of Operations, were also able to secure a license for their patent as well as incorporate in March of this year. In his recap of his I-Corps™ experience, Matthew Wallenstein notes,

“Forcing us to conduct 100 customer interviews, learning how to effectively interview people, and gaining insights from the interviews were definitely the most important skills.”

Dr. Wallenstein believes that learning directly from customers—a central tenet of I-Corps™—will continue to serve him well in his future as a researcher and business owner.

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