By Jacquelyn Lazo
Newswise — The University of Virginia Darden School of Business has announced Beanstalk Farms founders Michael Ross and brother Jack Ross, a 2017 graduate of UVA’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, as recipients of the 2018 Kathryne Carr Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence from the W.L. Lyons Brown III i.Lab at UVA.
The $25,000 award, named for the inaugural director of the i.Lab Incubator program, is presented annually to the i.Lab entrepreneur whose venture demonstrates the greatest potential for commercial success and whose founders embody Kathy Carr’s leadership, energy and grit.
“Through this award, we recognize excellence in the form of two engineers — brothers — who are addressing the deep deficiencies in the American food system by using technology to bring fresh produce to consumers through the use of hydroponics in vertical greenhouses,” said W.L. Lyons Brown III (MBA ’87) at this year’s Kathryne Carr Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence Celebration.
“We are honored to receive such a distinguished award, and we are very grateful for the generosity of the Carr family, the i.Lab and Lyons Brown,” said Jack Ross. “For my brother and I, this grant represents the incredible support that we were given in the i.Lab and continue to receive today.”
Beanstalk develops and manages indoor, vertical, autonomous farms, and then sells the produce they grow to customers such as grocery stores. “Our mission at Beanstalk is to create an abundance of healthy food through technological advancements,” said Jack Ross. “To us, this means building toward a future where there is affordable, farm-fresh produce in every community around the world.”
With backgrounds in aerospace, computer engineering and software development, the Ross’ were well-equipped to develop a successful prototype for Beanstalk in the i.Lab in 2017. They credit their engineering mindset for driving their progress, as their technology spans several disciplines, including biology, mechanics, materials and computer science. After the i.Lab, the brothers earned a coveted spot at Y Combinator, a highly competitive accelerator program that has helped launch such household names as Airbnb and Dropbox.
Brown believes Beanstalk stands out because of its competitive pricing. “It can feed cities from a single unit, in a perfect climate, without the use of pesticides, and all at the same price of what is on the shelves today ¾ all with significantly higher nutritional value,” said Brown.
Historically, labor has been a high cost limiting the potential of indoor grow facilities. The Ross brothers decided to create “a manufacturing line that grows plants,” thus keeping labor costs low.
As far as advice for aspiring innovators, the Ross brothers’ is simple: dive in. “Many people believe they need someone else to write software or build a prototype,” Ross said. “There are so many resources online to learn everything you need to build enough to get started. Hire when you have something more defined. Have faith in your ability to build something.”
The Ross brothers expressed their appreciation for the legacy created by Kathy Carr and said they feel fortunate to have met many of her family members. “The Carr family is extremely genuine and generous. During the award ceremony, nearly everyone who knew Mrs. Carr told stories of her humor, grit and generosity. I believe the work she did has greatly helped us get off the ground and ‘carry on,’” said Jack Ross.
“Kathy’s role as the i.Lab Incubator’s first director was a fitting culmination to her career,” said David Carr. “As a mentor and adviser, she encouraged others to develop their businesses and build a strong network of support.”
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D. and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.