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September 25, 2014
Specialty: Bio-clean technology company that converts food scraps into renewable resources; current focus is to convert food scraps to an organic liquid fertilizer for sale to farmers and consumers
Management: Larry LeSueur, founder and chief executive officer; Jose Lugo, founder and chief operating officer; Victor Tyron, chief science officer
Projects: Harvester units at PCC Natural Markets, Central Market, Whole Foods Markets, Red Apple Markets and other grocery stores in the Pacific Northwest; working to get Harvesters installed at large corporate campuses; WISErganic liquid fertilizer sales to commercial produce growers and residential consumers
The DJC asked Jose Lugo about WISErg. Here is what he said:
Q: What is WISErg and how does the Harvester work?
A: The Harvester converts food scraps to a raw material that can later be turned into renewable resources like a liquid fertilizer approved for use in organic crop production. It can process any kind of food scraps, which makes it ideal for grocery stores that want to deal with food scraps responsibly and sustainably. A worker deposits food scraps into the Harvester, where they are broken down and stabilized until WISErg services the unit and collects the nutrient-rich material.
The Harvester also collects information about the weight, type of waste material and reason for discarding. We return this data to the generator to promote improved inventory management.
Q: How much does the Harvester cost? Can it work downtown?
A: The sale price for the Harvester depends on the volume of organics and which add-ons are included. We’re seeing a large opportunity with grocery stores, restaurants and commercial campuses across Washington. This market is growing, and we’re very close to announcing additional deployments in other regions of the country.
There is definitely a market for the Harvester in downtown settings. In fact, we have multiple units deployed in Seattle. The fact that the Harvester is sealed makes it attractive for grocery stores, restaurants and large campuses that want to deal with their food scraps sustainably without the smell, pests and leaching waste of compost. Many of our customers turn to WISErg after their neighbors complain about their composting and/or waste collection setup. We like to call the Harvester the “good neighbor” solution to food scrap recycling.
On the residential side, WISErg is working with communities and state agencies to provide the tools and education needed to improve waste separation efforts to increase food waste recycling opportunities.
Q: Does your company sell the fertilizer produced via the Harvester?
A: WISErganic liquid fertilizer is sold to commercial growers and consumers. It feeds your plants and soil and, through continued use, results in beautiful lawns and gardens.
The Organic Materials Review Institute, Washington Department of Agriculture Organic Program and the California Department of Food and Agriculture have approved it for use in organic crop production reviewing it against the regulations set forth by the USDA National Organic Program.
In addition to retail sales at grocers that have installed Harvesters, we sell it directly to produce growers across the country. These growers rave about WISErganic. It’s a natural fertilizer that produces healthy soil, which is the key to healthy and productive crops.
Our customers also find it works better in their irrigation and fertilizing systems than other organic fertilizers, many of which are primarily fish or manure-based. Those fertilizers tend to smell and can clog irrigation systems, requiring workers to manually clean them several times a day.
Q: Who are the co-founders of WISErg?
A: Larry LeSueur and I founded WISErg after working together at Microsoft. Larry is an innovative guy who likes to challenge the status quo. He was drawn back to his love of agriculture and healthy land after spending 20 years in product development and process improvement at Fortune 500 technology companies.
I’m a computer engineer by trade with a background in quality assurance, process innovation and operations. I spent 18 years with Microsoft helping build Microsoft Exchange and running several recruiting and acquisition initiatives. In 2005, I decided a change was needed and relocated to Mexico to co-found AguaYVida S.A., a company focused on reforestation, clean water and waste-to-energy solutions. It was a rewarding experience, but I returned to the U.S. in 2008 to apply what I learned to urban areas. WISErg was a natural evolution after Larry and I reconnected.
Q: Who is financially backing WISErg?
A: WISErg announced Series B funding in June. We secured $5 million in funding from private sources to help us expand and set the stage for a national rollout for Harvester and WISErganic. We’re on schedule for that expansion, with increasing attention and interest every day.
Q: Does WISErg plan to expand into new markets?
A: We are focused on growth and are in discussions with several large grocery and retail chains to install Harvester units and sell WISErganic fertilizer across the U.S. and Canada. There is definitely a market need. Food waste is a universal issue with staggering numbers. According to the EPA, the U.S. sends more than 60 billion pounds of food to landfills each year. WISErg is challenging that status quo to help everyone see the value in food waste.
Our goal is to create a virtuous loop from farm to grocery back to farm. We’ve been able to accomplish that with several grocery stores in the area, where a grower uses WISErganic to produce crops for a local grocery that also has a Harvester unit installed. We want to replicate that to help build truly sustainable communities across the country. It’s been amazing to see farmers and grocery stores share our passion.