Westchester Natives Crowdfunding Innovative Indoor Hydroponic Grower

Like the sound of growing greens, vegetables, and eatable flowers right in your kitchen? Eric De Feo and Brielle Pettinelli have a week and a half to raise $75,000 to make it a reality.


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Ohneka Farms co-founders Eric De Feo, a 27-year-old Westchester native who lives in NYC, and Brielle Pettinelli, a 26-year-old Katonah resident, are on a mission, they say, “to connect people to their food sources.” They launched Ohenka after graduating from UPenn’s Integrated Product Design master’s program with a concept that they believe will do just that. It’s called ROOT, and it’s a new take on indoor hydroponic growing designed for urban living. At just two feet tall, ROOT’s LED growing lights are Wi-Fi-enabled so you can control them with an app on your smartphone (those lights, by the way, dim or brighten automatically relative to the light available in its location), and it allows users to grow up to sixteen plants (most likely lettuces, but you can grow vine plants, edible flowers, and herbs) at once.

To get ROOT off the ground, De Feo and Pettinelli are eschewing traditional fundraising sources in favor of a crowdfunding approach. At press, they had less than two weeks to meet a $75,000 goal on crowdfunding site Indiegogo ($23,135 has been raised so far). We caught up with De Feo to find out why Ohenka chose this fundraising route, and how it’s working.

What about crowdfunding attracted you?

Crowdfunding is a great way for small businesses with limited budgets to share their ideas with the world. Indiegogo has been great for generating buzz, and getting honest feedback from consumers. In recent years, we have seen many successful case studies from these platforms, even from close friends of ours.

Crowdfunding allows us to test market interest before spending on the considerable manufacturing startup costs and in turn (if there is sufficient interest), appeal to investors. Specifically, Indiegogo presales [you can pre-order ROOT as part of your pledge on Indiegogo] let us gauge sales traction, which helps us establish a company valuation that we can then share with investors.

We have been excited to learn that people from all corners of the globe have ordered a ROOT, from Australia to Qatar—places in particular that are either too dry or too cold to grow year-round.

How did you settle on $75,000 as a goal?

We had to come up with a number that would make sense to move into manufacturing; $75,000 covers the cost of manufacturing tooling for a minimum of 250 units. We are in the process of securing more capital to cover payroll, overhead, and other business expenses.

How are you getting the word out about your campaign?

Initially, our newsletter subscribers (and fans) were phenomenal supporters, and for that we gave early access to presales of ROOT. We are so grateful to receive early media attention from well-known tech and design blogs such as “DesignBoom,” CNET, and The Atlantic’s “CityLab” blog. Our next step is to expand our Facebook ad presence, as that is where a large number of contributions have come from.

Has it proved as effective as you anticipated (two weeks out, are you where you thought you’d be funding-wise)?

We have certainly met challenges when it comes to campaign funding, possibly related to the time of year/holidays. However, it is also a time of year when people are reflecting and looking for a way to give back.  And by funding ROOT, people will be able to grow their own produce while supporting Ohneka’s larger mission of developing sustainable food economies.

Crowdfunding is still a relatively new concept, so in addition to educating people about ROOT, we find ourselves having to explain how crowdfunding works. Once they learn about it, they find it's an exciting way to make great ideas come to life. After garnering 30 percent of contributions from friends, family, and Indiegogo traffic, we are finding that early adopters—those who support young companies and new technologies—will carry us through the next funding stage. So we plan to spend the remainder of the campaign targeting those early adopters interested in health and wellness.



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