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This blog post was written by Ellie Gershenwald (Steinhardt '22) based on an interview with June 2022 Founder of the Month Jonas Günther (Tandon '18), Co-Founder of We Are The New Farmers.
We Are The New Farmers is an indoor farming company using captured carbon to create sustainable food products from microalgae – specifically spirulina, which is full of antioxidants, phytonutrients, protein, iron, and more.
Jonas Günther is on a mission to make the world’s oldest food source a mainstream staple. After growing up in Germany, Jonas moved to New York City in 2016. With an interest in food and sustainability, his goal was to create a solution to combat the carbon footprint of the food industry and its impact on climate change. Jonas began to build prototypes that addressed these issues while pursuing a Master's degree in Management of Technology from NYU Tandon. His access to the NYU MakerSpace enabled him to explore these ideas alongside a team of fellow students and secure a $20,000 grant from the school to fund an indoor vertical farm in the basement of that facility. The idea for We Are The New Farmers stemmed from this prototype. Two years later, it became a business.
While at the NYU MakerSpace, a professor who noticed Jonas’s strong drive told him about the NYU Leslie eLab. Throughout his time as a student, Jonas participated in numerous entrepreneurial programs, but reflects on how impactful it was to participate specifically in the NYU Summer Launchpad with his team in 2018. During this 9-week accelerator program, he was able to dive into the Lean Startup methodology and learn best practices for customer discovery, which have become ingrained into the company. Jonas explains that this program was incredibly valuable, especially because of the community of founders and coaches he found there – one that has continued to support each other since.
Since completing Summer Launchpad, We Are The New Farmers has evolved beyond its original vertical farm. Jonas and his team originally focused on planting more traditional crops, including leafy greens and cherry tomatoes. But, through lots of testing, they quickly realized the huge amount of energy that was lost from the grow lights during the process. As with many founders, they needed to make adjustments to their original plan. The team then decided to grow microalgae alongside the other crops to utilize the remaining energy and to create a more sustainable system. They pivoted a final time as they realized the business would yield even greater potential by growing only the microalgae itself.
Jonas had a very idealistic goal in mind when starting We Are The New Farmers – to create the future of food – and needed a financially stable business model to do so. Using what they learned at the Leslie eLab, they focused on one crop (the microalgae spirulina) and fine-tuned their product and the value they would provide to customers. With time, the team has been able to make the process ever more efficient. They now sell fresh spirulina and fresh frozen spirulina cubes, both of which are easily blended into smoothies. As the company continues to grow, Jonas is challenged by the complexities of scaling a vertically integrated startup, where all steps from cultivation to distribution are done in-house.
Jonas has continued to stay involved with the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute as Founder in Residence, sharing his experiences with and providing advice for new founders who are following similar paths. He notes how crucial it is for aspiring entrepreneurs to build a community that you can trust and rely on, since being a founder can be lonely. From a first-hand perspective, he is also able to empathize with how fast-paced and chaotic the startup journey often feels. He reassures these entrepreneurs that it is a part of the process and that the pieces will fall into place over time.
The pieces certainly have fallen into place for We Are The New Farmers. Jonas is looking towards a “growing” future with more facilities, more employees, and more products. Though the journey has had challenges, he makes sure to take in every little rewarding moment, from creating a viral TikTok to reading supportive messages from customers.