by Chloë Daniel and Erin Schaffer – 9 March 2016
Solène Guéré and Lou Bugeia-Gane are the founders of Fresh Square, a startup creating home gardens which allow you to grow fresh food year-round. Founded in 2015, Fresh-Square has recently moved into the GTEC Lab, where it will take part in a 12-month support program (0% equity, 0 euros rent, free prototyping facilities). Check out our other GTEC Lab startups here.
We talked to Solène and Lou about the origins of their idea, why they decided to join the startup world, and the goal of their company to reconnect people with nature.
What is Fresh Square?
Lou: It is a fresh home garden for your living room or kitchen, which allows you to produce and consume in the same place.
Solène: Yes, Fresh Square is the easiest way for city dwellers to grow fresh, healthy, organic food at home.
Is there anything else like Fresh Square already on the market?
Solène: Home-farming and indoor farming – like aeroponics and hydroponics – are a trend right now. But these technologies are still too difficult to monitor and too expensive for most individual consumers.
Lou: Products similar to Fresh Square use chemicals to make the plants grow fast. That is not how nature does it. With Fresh Square you reconnect with nature: we don’t use any pesticides and only organic nutrients in the soil. As far as we know, we’re the only ones who can do that.
What was the background to the idea?
Solène: I had the idea around the time I moved to Berlin last year. By training I am a biologist, but quickly realised I didn’t want to spend my time doing academic research. I have a very entrepreneurial family and wanted to do something like that myself. So I did an MBA and then went to work for a startup focused on seawater desalination. Along the way, the idea for Fresh Square evolved. To kickoff the project, I took the idea to a startup weekend in May 2015. That’s where I met Lou. We worked together for 48 hours on the idea and were the winning team.
Lou: I was looking for a startup idea to get passionate about. I have always wanted and acted to make the world more sustainable. During my two business masters – one in entrepreneurship, the other in project management – I was thinking about charity or politics, or even corporate social responsibilities services in big companies to make changes from the inside. But that was too slow for me, so when I left university I decided to have my own company and make it my way. That’s why I went to the startup weekend. I went there with a lot of hope and thought maybe I would meet people who had the same goals as me and then it happened. Solène told me she wanted to start Fresh Square in Berlin and I said, “Okay – I’ll come to Berlin and we’ll do it.”
Why did you choose to build Fresh Square in Berlin?
Solène: Fresh Square is a French company but both of us are living in Berlin. Partly because Germany is the European leader for environment. And partly because we wanted to build an international company. Berlin has that international outlook – you pitch in English, you produce your website in English. France is less international.
Lou: Maybe if we would have stayed in France we could have grown a little faster, since we have our networks there, but Berlin provides us with a better long-term opportunity. We are a fully bi-national company.
So what stage is Fresh Square at now?
Solène: On the product side, we are receiving help from a university in Belgium to assist us with soil experiments. On the commercial side, we are growing our community – we call them Freshers. Everyone can become a Fresher by joining the community through our website (www.fresh-square.com) or Facebook community. We have signed our first agreement with a retail store for local products in France. The store has agreed to sell the first hundreds of units and we will go from there. And, we have secured a loan and have some French investors coming on board with us very soon.
Lou: Then on the hardware part of the product, we have 10 prototypes, from nonfunctional to functional ones. We are working with a design agency who can quickly make a great-looking super functional one which we can take to market.
What comes next?
Lou: Crowdfunding! We have a campaign set for Q2, and before that we want to have a very functional industrialised prototype – that’s what we’re working on.
Solène: For us, GTEC is about atmosphere and energy – everybody here is raising funds and working so hard and there is so much cross-fertilisation. The connection with Fab Lab Berlin is important for us too – for making small scale prototypes.
Lou: The personal energy definitely fuels our project. GTEC is about network and a space to build our own community. It’s the best push for our crowdfunding campaign. Working in the GTEC Lab feels like being on a team with the other startups, we share both happy and hard times, plus,, someone always have a useful feedback for you.
Thanks Solène and Lou – it’s a pleasure having you in the GTEC Lab.
To find out more about Fresh Square, check out their website here.