The chipmunks were giving Hank Adams ’99 MBA a headache, tearing up the garden in his Evanston backyard. So he started looking for an indoor alternative but was not impressed by the options.
Adams had just sold Sportvision, a tech firm known for sports television innovations like the first-down yellow line on football broadcasts. “I spent my career in technology,” Adams says, “but I really wanted to do something that would have an impact. I wanted to make it simple for people interested in eating better to be able to grow things like salad greens, kale and tomatoes indoors.”
With this inspiration, Adams in 2017 launched Rise Gardens, a hydroponics company in Skokie, Ill., that makes innovative and attractive indoor garden kits. With help from Northwestern alumni Diego Blondet ’19 MS, ’19 MBA and Brandon Bay ’18 and Segal Design Institute adjunct professor Craig Sampson, Adams and his team developed a modular, multilevel system that can grow lettuce, kale, arugula, microgreens and herbs as well as tomatoes and climbing crops like peas and cucumbers. Adams is now exploring adaptations that make it possible to grow root vegetables.
Users can purchase small seed pods and their nutrients separately or subscribe to a monthly plan. The Wi-Fi–connected system also includes ultrasonic sensors that tell gardeners via an app when to water and add nutrients. Adams says his gardens can provide as much as 3 pounds of fresh lettuce a month per level.
The Rise Gardens kits aren’t only for use in the family home. Schools and universities, including Cornell, have shown interest in using the gardens for educational purposes. And retirement communities, high-rise apartments and the co-working spaces 1871 and WeWork have embraced the indoor gardens.
“I want people to have a platform for growing that they can hack and play around with,” Adams says. “There’s something like 20,000 varieties of edible food in the natural world, and yet 20 species now provide 90% of our food.”