IoT Environment Control Software and Hardware for Mushroom Cultivation
My most recent venture is also the one I’ve been most passionate about. I’ve built several creative studios that allowed me to work with client’s and their branding and marketing needs, but it doesn’t compare to owning the product yourself. Sojourn Fare was an exercise in building every aspect of a business from the ground up. It was exhausting, educational and rewarding. While we ultimately didn’t garner the investment we needed to move forward, the experience was invaluable as it taught me a bevy of new skills and tempered my resilience in the face of challenges.
For a glimpse at my branding skills, take a look at the Sojourn Fare website, the entire thing is of my creation. Visual identity, typography, writing, illustration, design and Squarespace build/management.
I got interested in mushrooms via a TED Talk called, 6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World. I was instantly compelled by mushroom mycelium and began reading cultivation books, watching videos, chatting on forums and finally cultivating them myself. I quickly learned that the growth environment is key to creating successful and consistent yields. So I began modifying plastic storage tubs with computer fans, LEDs and misters. You can see how that progressed over at the Sojourn Fare Prototype Row
Prototyping at Google
In the early days, I was tinkering. And then it happened. The GM of Google Chicago’s cafeteria heard about my project and reached out to me. 2 months later, one of my enclosures was sitting in their cafeteria. I would visit it every Thursday to harvest 7 lbs of mushrooms, clean it, reload it with new substrate and it did the rest. The unit controlled humidity, temperature, light and O2/CO2 mix. It ran for just under a year. They were so happy with it, they gave me a two-door glass refrigerator to modify into a larger unit. Unfortunately, just weeks before it was ready to roll, Google brought in a third party service to take over their food program. The GM was out, and so were his projects and vendors.
Hardware & Software Iteration
The next year found me iterating on the hardware design, beefing up our computer boards, modifiers & sensors and adding solar power, while my co-founder built out the code. I won some money at a pitch competition, provided mushrooms for high profile events, joined the Lost Labs incubator, filed a patent, traveled to mushroom farms far and wide to learn new methods (both high tech and low tech), multiple speaking engagements and a myriad of meetings with potential partners, team members, VC’s and Angel investors. And that finally led us to a STEAM based, build it yourself kit for high schoolers that got picked up by ComEd for their Solar Spotlight campaign.
End of the Road
After 5 years of bootstrapping, I couldn’t afford to keep going. We had lots of nibbles from investors but ultimately no bites. Hardware is hard… and expensive. It came time to make the hard decision and throw in the towel.
While it didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, again, it was one of the greatest and most challenging experience of my life. I stretched and grew in ways I didn’t think I could. I learned patience, employed hustle and scrappiness in new ways, and was humbled by the power of collaboration.