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How do you make gardening simpler and more accessible? With an innovative startup and Alexa, of course. Rise Gardens was founded in 2017 with a mission to enable people to grow high-quality produce in a predictable way right in the comfort of their home.
“We have severe food quality and shortage issues with our supply chain,” says Diego Blondet, head of product at Rise Gardens. “Rise Gardens provides our customers with access to really fresh produce in an easy and convenient way.”
Rise Gardens offers modular indoor gardening systems in various sizes, including the small Personal Rise Garden, which can fit on a countertop, and the larger family garden sizes, each of which resembles a bookcase with plants growing on up to three shelves. The startup’s indoor gardening systems are hydroponic, which means that instead of relying on soil, customers can provide water and nutrients to plants directly and as needed.
To support its innovative gardening system, Rise Gardens received support from the Alexa Fund, which provides up to $200 million in venture capital funding to fuel voice technology innovation.
As people witnessed food supply shortages and began to invest more in indoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rise Gardens saw a spike in demand for its products and witnessed significant growth. In mid-2020, the startup was directly contacted by Alexa because of its promising IoT technology.
“Alexa was looking to invest in IoT companies that are using novel ways to have a real-world impact on the lives of people,” says Blondet.
There are several features that customers can take advantage of while using the startup’s Alexa-supported mobile app.
For example, different plants need different levels of light. Rise Gardens uses IoT sensors to control lights for customers using a built-in smart board.
“Our smart board connects to the home wireless network, and controls the garden lights via the mobile app.” says Blondet. “I can turn off the lights in my garden at home right from my phone. If the water levels get too low, Alexa sends me an alert, so that I can refill the tank right away.”
“When you’re applying water and nutrients, using your phone to get instructions might not be convenient,” says Blondet. “Why would you want to tap on a phone screen with a wet hand? Instead, why not use Alexa to use voice to give you instructions?”
Customers can also use Alexa to place orders for nutrients before they run out, supporting long-term plant health. These include a micronutrient solution Thrive; macronutrient solutions Sprout and Blossom; and pH Balance, a solution that helps control water acidity.
Customers can also purchase new seeds as they harvest plants and expand their gardens with Alexa.
“Our seeds and nutrients are small-ticket items that customers often require at high volumes,” says Blondet. “They’re perfect for voice purchasing. It is so convenient for our customers to just turn around and say, ‘Alexa, buy more lettuce from Rise Gardens.’”
The Alexa skill supports a “farm-to-table” experience by informing customers when a plant is ready to be used in a meal. Customers can ask, “Alexa, how’s my garden doing?” or “Alexa, what’s the status of my garden?” and hear what is ready for harvest.
“Customers can see what they can harvest and plan their meals around what is available,” says Blondet. “The garden becomes the centerpiece of mealtime.”
With the support of the Alexa Fund, Rise Gardens plans to expand its offerings by adding new items to the product line, such as edible flowers. Blondet talks about plans to expand to support other customer interests, such as making tea or essential oils.
“Our mission is to connect people to the food they eat by inspiring them to grow fruits and vegetables that they are proud of,” says Blondet. “We are going to be doing just that in so many new ways. But no matter what we do, voice is the most natural and intuitive way for us to interact with our customers, and Alexa will always be a part of our journey.”