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From ashes to microbes in Glen Mills: Organic lawn nutrient maker Holganix projects $3M in revenue

It's not Texas tea, but it's worth its weight in gold. Holganix, based in Glen Mills, Delaware County, has developed a sustainable and organic turf nutrient system derived from compost tea with a secret living ingredient: microbes. Holganix just received $200,000 in funding from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, following a previous $250,000 funding round in February 2011 for its environmentally safe holistic and organic lawn fertilizer.

Today, Holganix, which employs 17, celebrates its second anniversary. Founded in 2010, the company made $200,000 its first year, and projects revenues of $3 million in 2012, according to founder and CEO Barrett Ersek.
Those lush green campus lawns and rolling golf courses come at a high price to the environment, sprayed with chemical fertilizers and pesticides which then run off into local waterways.
Ersek says his environmentally benign product dramatically reduces a major source of runoff pollution by eliminating the need for conventional pesticides and herbicides. He points to a dead zone the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico, which was brought about by chemical runoff from the Mississippi River. 
The secret in the Holganix formula is life. The lawn care spray actually contains beneficial microorganisms made without animal or human by-products. Right now, the liquid product requires refrigeration prior to application, and Ersek says his team is also working on a granulated formula, which will capture the other 50% of the lawn care market.
Ersek says the first round of Ben Franklin funding went to a validation study conducted at three universities. North Carolina State, Penn State and Purdue University all reported dramatic reduction, up to 88%, in the need to add nitrogen as a fertilizer following Holganix treatment. The Holganix formula also attacks weeds, drastically reducing the need for pesticides.
Ersek reports that his primary customer base is in the mid-Atlantic, with a rapidly growing clientele among the Amish and Mennonite communities, who appreciate the all natural formula. Holganix is also making its way south, now negotiating with companies in Florida. Holganix is primarily a B2B distributor, but also deals directly with large institutions.

The potential market for an organic lawn care product is huge. According to Ersek, there are 44 million acres of manicured turf in the US, and over a million acres of golf courses. The Holganix formula may also be applied to shrubs and crops.
The idea for the business literally rose from the ashes. Ersek, who had built and sold two lawn care companies, had stockpiled fertilizer in 2008, anticipating a 60% price spike. The warehouse went up in flames. "One of our core values is gratitude," says Ersek. "Look for greater potential in every situation. You can't control what happens to you. If you respond with gratitude, you'll be OK. The loss forced me to find a better alternative."

Source: Barrett Ersek, Holganix
Writer: Sue Spolan
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