On Choosing to Grow Slow: An Interview with Michael and Pierfranco of Regrowth.

Michael Odintsov-Vainstrub — Regrowth

In 2020 Michael took part in EIT Food Global Food Venture Programme
- a special education offering for highly qualified Doctoral Students from across Europe.

Unlike many other startup founders, Michael Odintsov-Vainstrub and Pierfranco Di Giuseppe of Regrowth are not aiming for hypergrowth.

The veterinarian and environmental engineer duo spent the last year focusing on product and customer: dividing their time between training their AI model, running their farm, and interviewing small-scale farmers.

In this interview, Michael (M) and Pierfrancesco (P) shares insight on one year of Regrowth, their decision to go slow, and surviving the winding path of the bootstrapping period.

What inspires you to start Regrowth?

M: He’s (Pierfranco) a farmer, and I’m a vet- we started Regrowth to solve problems in our daily life. Small farmers are losing out to factory farms. The technology used by factory farms requires significant resources, data management, and traffic- something small farmers can’t afford. We are scaling down the technology to make it available to small farmers. Right now, most of our work is to translate years of farming experience into an artificial intelligence model.

You guys founded Regrowth in November 2019 -Happy first anniversary! Based on your experience this past year, what advice would you give to more recent founders?

M: On mentors and advisors: the best ones will help you make your own decision; the worst ones will push their opinions on you. After a while, you’ll develop a gut feeling on which advice to listen. The startup world is full of experts with no prior founding experience- they’re usually the ones trying to push you over the edge.

P: I agree. Keep your own pace; don’t let others decide it for you. We’re growing slow because we need to.

Was growing slow the reason behind your decision to bootstrap this past year?

M: Regrowth’s technology can’t be finished in two months. We need at least a year for it to mature; you can’t force nature. Right now, we’ve completed our initial tests, and we’re working on the full-scale field trials. We’re meeting a local engineering team this Saturday to help us with the scale-up.

Tell me about your bootstrapping experience. How do you stay afloat, and what’s currently your highest cost?

P: We enter and win competitions. We’ve won a total of 25k so far from two entrepreneurship competitions.

M: We get small investments from friends. We’re allowed to use the farmland free of charge for five years- it belongs to a family. The highest cost was establishing our farm, our source of data — the challenge in bootstrapping lies in the instability. We’re always looking for a solution.

P: We struggled in keeping our pace, having only so much resource to allocate. It was sometimes challenging to keep harmony in our two people’s team (both laughed).

How do you plan to grow before seeking outside investment?

M: Aside from the technology, we’ll offer consultancy. While waiting for our technology to mature, we’re networking with farmers, offer courses, teaching them to produce sustainably.

P: Small scale farmers are conservative- you need to know them and gain their trust before they’re willing to try out your solution. So, we visit them one by one, chat with each farmer. We’ll use our local customers as a jumpstart to gain traction.

M: we need to have traction before talking to investors. The more traction, the more negotiation power.

P: it would also be our proof of concept.

M: so, the plan would be September 2021: ready to pre-order. January 2022- ready to order.

How do you measure your growth and estimate Regrowth’s value so far?

M:(laughs)By the amount of money people offer to buy our venture. We’ve received several offers- I always let them decide the value. The last offer was worth 100k Euros. We said no.

What is the biggest hiccup you’ve faced?

M: Explaining our venture to people in the startup world- we’re unlike most startups working on a digital solution to industrial problems.

P: And, explaining the project in an easy-to-understand way for most farmers. Small-scale farmers are keen to protect their way of life and tend to shy away from using technology. We showed them the model we developed from our data. We do our market analysis by interviewing local farmers to understand their needs.

Author: Jennifer Sasa Darmali

Entrepreneurship Program for early stage start-ups from Europe-wide doctoral students, creating impact in Food & Agriculture. Funded by EIT Food.