It’s been said that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. As cliché as that may sound, this has been the truth for Tinia Pina, the CEO of Re-Nuble, an agritech company that makes products for hydroponic farm systems. Using Re-Nuble trademarked technology created by her team, the company turns vegetative food waste, that would otherwise end up in landfills, into nutrients for soil-less farms.
“NYC was spending millions of dollars to export food waste to places as far as Pennsylvania, Virginia and China,” says Pina. “My goal was to take this growing waste stream and use the nutrients to provide an alternative to synthetic fertilizers and chemical-laden food.”
Pina founded Re-Nuble only six years ago, selling plant fertilizer to everyone from consumers with kitchen counter hydroponic systems to commercial farmers, but says she’s always been interested in sustainability and urban farming. Her timing could not have been better. Researchers predict that by 2050, we will need to increase our global food production by 70 percent to meet an increase in demand. “We really have to be resilient and growing in this way will allow us to adapt,” Pina says.
The use of hydroponic farming means commercial farmers can be more resource proficient, doling out only the amount of water and nutrients their plants actually need. It also helps them manage other potential natural threats. “As climate change is here to stay, there are a lot more pests and disease challenges because of the erratic weather patterns,” Pina says. Having the option to grow vegetables in a controlled environment means not having to use herbicides and pesticides. It also means not having to worry about seasonal planting. “Farmers can often grow 20 to 30 % more produce per square foot, year-round,” Pina says. At the end of the day, they can reap as much as a 25% higher yield in produce, like leafy greens, herbs and tomatoes, than traditional farms. She says, experiments are currently being conducted on growing carrots and potatoes this way, but root crops tend to do best in the ground.
Headquartered in New York City, with a manufacturing facility in Rochester, Pina initially invested about $140,000, running up credit cards and taking out personal loans. A move she admits she would not do again. “I had to show that I was all in and that I was taking as much risk as any other investor.” Her first round of funding came from SOSV’s food business accelerator, Food-X. Other venture capitalists followed suit thereafter. According to a 2020 AgFunder News article, Re-Nuble received a total of $1.1 million in seed money.
Raising capital may have come natural to Pina, who has a background in finance, but she also had to invest her time to learn all she could about her current industry. “I’m not a biologist or agriculturally-trained. A lot of what I know now has been self-taught. I also networked my tail off,” she says. She spent a great deal of time with farmers researching their challenges to better understand their needs.
Today, Re-Nuble can boast that many farmers are helping to reduce the level of carbon dioxide emissions (CO2e) by replacing their synthetic mineral fertilizers with their products. Pina’s also looking for ways to reduce her company’s carbon footprint by replacing her current bioplastic product packaging with containers that would be 100% compostable.
Other future plans for the company include setting up more facilities across the U.S. and expanding internationally to assist places, like the Middle East and Africa, with closed-loop agriculture, while helping them become more resilient. “There has to be an incredible amount of consistency and predictability when it comes to hydroponic farming. That’s really our know-how, so we can empower other agricultural economies to do the same,” she adds.
During the pandemic, Re-Nuble faced a few challenges including a bank loan of $500,000 that was rescinded. “We had to completely redesign our manufacturing process and our products,” Pina says. “I am a first-time entrepreneur trying to navigate all of this and I’m thinking, ‘I can’t put any more money in.” Pina was forced to fundraise to keep the company afloat.
“It helped to have faith, knowing that sometimes things happen to help you grow. You have to keep that mindset at the forefront when you experience challenges. I could’ve gone into depression multiple times, but I was able to overcome it.”