SEATTLE -- Chris Sheppard ’12 and UW MBA Chris Bajuk ’12 won the $25,000 grand prize at UW’s Annual Business Plan Competition last month. Their startup company, UrbanHarvest, promises healthy, tasty and environmentally sustainable produce grown on rooftops.
The two recent grads also won an additional $2,500 for Best Clean Tech Idea. The company reduces fossil fuel emissions by eliminating the need for transporting produce.
“I am still amazed though that we placed 1st out of 101 teams,” Sheppard said. “Many of those teams had fantastic and feasible business ideas. I was blown away by the talent demonstrated by our competitors.”
Currently the duo is negotiating with Microsoft about building a hydroponic greenhouse at the Redmond office’s parking garages. The rooftop farm would supply fresh fruits and vegetables for the corporation’s cafeteria and reduce the need for Microsoft to ship produce from California.
The concept of UrbanHarvest blossomed last fall when Sheppard saw Bajuk’s hydroponic vegetable garden growing in buckets on his porch.
“I was amazed at how much food was growing out of ten buckets on his deck,” Sheppard said. “I told him, half jokingly, we should start an urban farming business using hydroponic systems. We batted the idea around but couldn't figure out the real estate problem (large scale conventional farming isn't feasible in urban areas). A couple of days later I came up with the idea of putting hydroponic greenhouses on urban rooftops. Both Chris and I had an ah-ha moment and we ran with it.”
Sheppard, who also just graduated from UW’s MBA program, was a member of UW Law’s School Entrepreneurial Law Clinic (ELC) for five quarters. He spent two quarters as a MBA business consultant and three quarters as a corporate lead, liaising with and analyzing corporate law issues for clinic clients.
Jennifer Fan, Managing Director of the ELC said she is impressed with Sheppard’s work ethic and his passion for entrepreneurship.
“As an ELC student, Chris honed his skills in the business and legal arenas representing various types of clients: microenterprises, high technology ventures, and nonprofits and social ventures,” she said. “These client experiences gave him a holistic view of what it means to start and build a successful business. Ultimately, what Chris learned in the ELC helped to contribute to the success of UrbanHarvest.”
Sheppard said his work in the ELC helped him develop a winning business plan for the contest.
“The experience I earned in the clinic was invaluable,” he said. “Being able to work on many different types of business ventures provided me with a well-rounded experience. When it came time to compete in the BPC, my ELC business and legal experience served me well.”
As for the future of UrbanHarvest, Sheppard and Bajuk hope to have the Microsoft rooftop farm built by early next year. Sheppard said they are also in talks with a regional food distributor and the University of Washington about possible business partnerships.