Microsoft is one of the world’s biggest technology companies. But a new type of business may be sprouting on the company’s massive corporate campus, and this one could be rooted in something much more tangible than SharePoint Server or Windows 7.
UrbanHarvest, which won top honors Thursday night at the University of Washington’s annual business plan competition, is in talks with the Redmond software giant to build a massive hydroponic greenhouse on top of one of the company’s parking garages.
Crops harvested in the greenhouse could be used to supply fresh fruit and vegetables in the company’s kitchens, filling the bellies of the Microsoft workers with some of the freshest produce around.
UrbanHarvest is the brainchild of Chris Sheppard and Chris Bajuk, two enterprising University of Washington MBA students who wowed judges Thursday with their ambitious plans to bring a new type of farming to rooftops everywhere.
“UrbanHarvest is working with Microsoft to evaluate the feasibility of rooftop farming on the Redmond campus. We are analyzing several different options of farm size and location to see if there is a potential fit,” said Bajuk, who holds a mechanical engineering degree from the U.S. Naval Academy. (Editor’s note: The quote has been update to indicate that there is no agreement in place between UrbanHarvest and Microsoft).
At this point, Microsoft sources most of its produce from a supplier in California, a 12-hour drive away. With the urban farm on the rooftops, fresh lettuce or tomatoes could be just minutes away.
Bajuk said that they are targeting the Microsoft farm for the parking garage for buildings 121 and 122. He said it will cost about $1 million to build.
If permitting from the City of Redmond goes as planned, they hope to have the farm built by early next year, producing fresh fruits and vegetables for the Microsoft workers.
UrbanHarvest won the $25,000 grand prize at Thursday night’s competition, beating out 100 other teams. It also won an additional $2,500 for Best Clean Tech Idea.
Bajuk said that the win represented a huge validation for the business. And while the cash infusion will help UrbanHarvest move into its next phase, he said they’ll need “a little bit more” capital to build out the concept.
“It lends credence to the idea,” said Bajuk, who plans to graduate in June and go full-time on the startup. “A lot of people are excited about it.”
The three other top finalists from Thursday’s competition included:
—JoeyBra: A bra that allows women to stash their phone when on the go. Previous GeekWire coverage: Startup innovation: A bra for stashing your phone. Team members: Kyle Bartlow and Mariah Gentry.
—Biking Billboards: Billboards attached to bicycle trailers. Team members: Curtis Howell; Claire Koerner; Andrea Lieberman; and Alyssa Norwood
—Xylemed: Software to organize and automate medical staffing schedules. In use at 55 hospitals and medical facilities, including University of Washington Medical Center and Cancer Care Alliance. Developed by Ben Andersen, TMMBA; Marc Brown, TMMBA; Anoop Gupta, TMMBA; Jason Imani, TMMBA; and Glen Jensen (Runner-up)
Other winners from the night’s awards ceremony:
—EchoGuide Medical: Won $2,500 for the Best Technology Idea.
—GroBox: Won $2,500 for Best Consumer Product Idea.
—Super Critical Technologies: Won $2,500 for Best Innovation.
—ViewPointe: Won $2,500 for Best Service/Retail Idea.
—Barrels of Hope: Won $2,500 for Best Sustainable Advantage Idea.
—Flash Volunteer: Won $3,000 for AARP Foundation Prize.
Coming up on GeekWire: Zulily CEO Darrell Cavens, the keynote speaker at the annual event, tells students to move fast in order to capitalize on opportunities.