Startup promises growers green thumbs

Matthew Glenn is committed to stopping the inadvertent genocide of garden plants by their ignorant owners, a cause that attracted $3.5 million in Series A financing from Gabriel Venture Partners.

Glenn is CEO and co-founder of PlantSense, a San Jose, Calif.-based startup looking to sell ambient sensors to measure soil chemistry, light intensity, moisture and a slew of other variables that determine whether or not a plant will grow.

His pitch is simple, “Have you ever killed a plant?” The answer, he says, is invariably “yes.” It’s not always the hapless gardener’s fault, of course. Potting a hydrophobic plant in water-soaked soil isn’t going to end well, for example.

The PlantSense sensor sits in the soil for 24 hours, taking snapshot readings of the environment. After it’s gotten a full read, you plug it into your PC and upload the data to the PlantSense website where it is analyzed to determine what types of plants are likely to thrive there. “It’s like having your own botanist,” Glenn says. “We look at the world the way a plant would.”

Glenn isn’t your typical Mr. Green Thumb. He’s a sensor-savvy techie, who’s held positions as a product manager for companies such as Cisco Systems, Airespace and Allegro Networks.

Pitching VCs on the vertical sensor market was easy, Glenn says. He talked to 10 investors before hitting it off with Gabriel Ventures’ Jim Long. “When he saw it, he got it right away,” Glenn says.

It doesn’t hurt to have a huge addressable market. Americans spend nearly $45 billion on plants and gardening tools each year, according to research collected by PlantSense.

The concept of using complex algorithms to balance planting conditions isn’t new. Large farms and vineyards use sensors that can cost up to $12,000 to estimate crop yields or to better control their plants for certain characteristics, Glenn says. But there’s little in the way of consumer-oriented products.

The PlantSense monitor will be ready for purchase this fall at a price of $59.95, Glenn says. —Alexander Haislip