Romano and McVay started Infinite Harvest as LEDs and renewable energy became cost-competitive with legacy technology.
After five years of R&D, the duo raised their first round of private equity in June 2014, allowing them to lease a 7,700-square-foot warehouse in Lakewood to prove its concept.
"Infinite Harvest is operating an environmentally contained vertical farm based on hydroponic technology," says Romano. "We started growing our first plants Christmas Ever 2014."
It's a 24/7, 365 days a year operation, it's green, and the chance of bad crop due to weather drops precipitously. It could produce six to 12 times the volume of crops per acre of an open farm without all of the inputs.
McVay rattles off an impressive list of buzzwords: "hyperlocal, same-day delivery, non-GMO, pesticide-free, chemical free." The farm only requires 5 percent the water of an open farm, he adds, and the LEDs are proprietary and notably efficient. "We developed them in-house," says Romano.
About 300 square feet are currently built out with 7,300 growing spaces to prove the concept. It's now growing arugula, mixed greens, and basil for high-end restaurants like Indulge in Golden and Beat + Bottle, Lowdown Brewery + Kitchen, and Vesta Dipping Grill in Denver.
The company's near-term expansion plans call for a summer scale-up to 5,300 square feet and 125,000 growing spaces. "That equals two acres of grow," says McVay, noting that scaling up will lower the production costs per square foot.
The farm in Lakewood is currently on the grid, but the long-term goal marries growing facilities with renewable energy.
"We do all of our own distribution," says Romano. "We have our own trucks and delivery personnel. We harvest in the morning and deliver a few hours later."
"We'll look at expanding to another facility in the Denver metro area in the next year," McVay says. After that, they're looking at California and have received interest from potential partners in Canada, the Middle East, and Africa.
Most of the coming expansion is pre-sold. The market will grow from high-end restaurants to grocery stores and chain restaurants and the catalog will grow to include kale, tomatoes, and peppers.
Romano says up to 32 percent of produce is lost during transportation, but Infinite Harvest decentralized model "makes that loss close to zero."
"The chefs absolutely love us," he adds. "They're starting to see the longevity of our stuff in their kitchen compared to what they used to get."
Because it's a year-round operation, employees aren't seasonal, as is the case with outdoor ag. "We have full-time, salaried employees because we produce year-round," says Romano.
McVay says he expects five new hires in 2015, "greenhouse techs to software developers."
Challenges: Building out the farm in Lakewood to its full 5,300-square-foot footprint. "We can't grow fast enough," says Romano.
Opportunities: "The bigger markets are going to be grocery stores, restaurant chains, and fast food restaurants," says Romano. "There is interest from those areas."
Local is a huge selling point, he adds. "Local is priced between organic and traditional, but it's usually the first one to sell off the shelf."
Needs: More capital. Romano says Infinite Harvest is looking to close a second round of private equity in May.