Menu Down Arrows

Search

Download Magazine

View or download the print version of the magazine. PDF icon

Download Winter 2017
Austin Webb

Starting from scratch

Entrepreneurial fever leads Webb to develop RoBotany and Pure Sky Farms.

Austin Webb ’10 hasn’t always known what his passion was. Actually, he spent two and a half years after graduating working the wrong job. When he realized it, he left his position with Lockheed Martin as a financial analyst in the Finance Leadership Development Program. 

“I went into investment banking, which I probably should have done from the start,” he says. “I helped middle market companies raise equity and debt capital or sell their companies in industries such as engineering, construction, technology, media and telecom.”

The experience gave him new skills, and more importantly, his contact with these middle-market companies offered him inspiration.

“In working with the CEOs and co-founders — the entrepreneurs that had built their companies from scratch — I began to get entrepreneurial fever,” says Webb. “I no longer wanted to work in the investment banking field. I wanted to build something of my own from scratch that could change the world for the better.”

Webb packed his bags and traveled to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., to earn an MBA and start a company in the field of robotics. 

“I met a tall, lanky roboticist, who is also named Austin, at a networking event on CMU’s campus,” says Webb, referring to RoBotany co-founder Austin Lawrence. “We came together with two different perceptions of how vertical farming could change the future, and we melded our concept of RoBotany over six or seven months through research and speaking with as many industry experts, fellow vertical farmers and consumers as possible to validate our idea.”

Daniel Seim and Brac Webb, Austin’s older brother, joined the leadership team, and together the four set out to change agriculture by combining revolutionary technology with a love of environmental sustainability.

“RoBotany is an indoor vertical farming company using automated robotics and software analytics to transform modern agriculture,” says Webb. “Over the past two years, vertical farming on a large commercial scale has finally found viability, both economically and socially. However, energy usage and manual, inefficient operations pose a huge threat to the long-term viability of indoor vertical farming.”

That’s where RoBotany’s patent-pending technology comes in. RoBotany uses automated robotics and software analytics to transform its indoor vertical farming techniques. The robotics allow for improved labor efficiency, increased annual yields per square foot and newfound sustainability. The software system monitors every aspect of the controlled environment while optimizing plant growth and taste and eliminating the need for pesticides.

“At the end of the day, for the consumer, this means hyper fresh, hyper local produce that can be grown inside any city limits all year-round,” says Webb. “And it means produce grown with 95 percent less water versus traditional agriculture, no topsoil degradation and no runoff pollution.”

Webb, who majored in finance and minored in economics, credits his experiences at Wofford with allowing him to reach this point. In particular he credits finance professors Andrew Green, Dr. Michael Merriman and Dr. Philip Swicegood with serving as ideal mentors and leaving a positive and lasting impact on his life.

“The liberal arts background has increased my ability to think critically in the workplace,” says Webb. “Thinking critically is the highest sought-after characteristic for recruiters, and it is extremely important for any co-founder or executive of a start-up.”

Webb is proud of how quickly RoBotany has grown. In less than a year, the company has validated its concept, built its own prototype farm, raised more than a half million dollars in start-up funding and moved into a 40,000-square-foot former steel mill that they are converting into a full-scale, indoor farm. They've also launched and found success with their own produce brand, Pure Sky Farms, which is sold in Whole Foods.

“But there is a long way to go and so much more work to come.” Still, he says, “there’s nothing more invigorating than trying to make a positive impact on the world through your direct actions. It is an amazing feeling to build something from scratch and to achieve important milestones on the path toward making your vision a reality."

To learn more about RoBotany and Pure Sky Farms, visit www.robotany.ag or www.pureskyfarms.com.

by Omar K. Elmore ’19