Innovation Spotlight

Gardening app makes growing simple

  • Photo by Tim Johnson
By Dana Wilson
From the March 2014 issue of Columbus CEO

Last summer, Matt Armstead and his family enjoyed a rich harvest of food grown in their own backyard.

The cultivation process began months earlier with an indoor starter kit and a variety of seeds, mostly vegetables and herbs. For gardening advice, Armstead relied on Sprout it, an app that told him when to transplant the seedlings and then alerted him when he needed to feed, mulch and prune specific plants—knowledge that he found “invaluable.”

Armstead wants other gardeners to achieve similar success. He co-founded Sprout it and serves as CEO of the startup business, which launched last spring with backing from Scotts Miracle-Gro and has since drawn about 10,000 registered users.

“It’s a very smart app compared to anything else on the market,” Armstead says. “It’s completely custom to you as a gardener based on where you live, (the) type of garden, what you are growing, and alerts you of important tasks and milestones.”

Sprout it was designed to make growing simple and to inspire healthy living and eating, Armstead says.

The free, web-based app helps users create customized plans uniquely suited to their gardens. When it debuted, the app included information on 15 plants and has expanded to 60 vegetables and herbs. More varieties, including fruits, will be added this year, Armstead says.

The app also features “inspiration gardens” that suggest a list of plants needed to grow a salsa garden, cocktail garden or soup garden, among others.

“A major goal for us is to make it easy and enjoyable for new gardeners to learn, be inspired and to start a garden,” Armstead says.

The business concept began with avid gardener and digital designer Sarah Bush, who created an idea for an iPad gardening app while studying design at Ohio State University.

“Initially, the idea was just for me,” says Bush, who imagined how helpful it would be to have a customizable online source of gardening information. Most of the gardening books and guides she had read provided generalized content and conflicting information.

“I couldn’t really find anything that was worthwhile, and it just kind of stuck with me,” Bush says.

She sketched out her idea and shared it with one of her professors, R. Brian Stone. He helped her pitch the app to Armstead, who works as a partner at the Columbus-based Founders Factory.

Armstead loved the concept and presented it to Scotts Miracle-Gro to get their take.

“Once they saw it and provided positive feedback and how we could partner, I knew we had something and it could be a very big opportunity,” Armstead says.

Marysville-based Scotts Miracle-Gro provided the startup with a three-year sponsorship and pre-seed funding, as well as industry insight and expertise.

“It was really refreshing how their approach was so organically based on simplifying gardening,” says Patti Ziegler, vice president of global marketing and communications for Miracle-Gro. “Gardening is a category that is very easy to complicate.”

People tend to think, “If I knew more, I’d do more,” Ziegler adds.

Sprout it’s creators hope the app boosts knowledge as well as confidence.

Bush, who co-founded Sprout it and now serves as the company’s vice president of creative strategy, says she designed the app with two types of users in mind: The novice who’s never tried gardening, and the gardener who’s tried before but failed.

“We’re actually using a lot of our experiences,” Bush says.

So far, the tool seems to be appealing to do-it-yourself home gardeners of all ages, Armstead says.

The app’s registered users are scattered around the world. In the U.S. there’s been strong interest in major cities, including New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Seattle.

Armstead envisions soon adding interactive components to the app, such as journaling, gardening meet-ups, photo sharing and image recognition of plants.

“We have big aspirations, but with limited budgets and resources you have to kind of figure out which ones are going to be the most fruitful for the app to expand,” Armstead says.

New for Sprout it in February – a responsive web design for tablets, smartphones and desktops.

Dana Wilson is a freelance writer.