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How Four Friends From South Jersey Plan To Change The Way America Eats

Photo credit: UnitedHealthcare/HomeGrown Farms

Photo credit: UnitedHealthcare/HomeGrown Farms

When Philadelphia magazine and UnitedHealthcare asked Philadelphia’s aspiring entrepreneurs to propose their most innovative ideas there was no telling who, or what, would come forward to win “The Pitch.” But from dozens of forward-thinking hopefuls, the panel of investors and industry leaders narrowed their choice to one team with one clear plan for the city’s next big business opportunity. Through each round of presentations and hardball questions, one group stood apart from the pack: HomeGrown Farms.

The team of four includes Chief Executive Officer Parth Chauhan, Chief Operations Officer Zeel Patel, Chief Science Officer Pranav Kaul and financial growth planner Raghav Garg. All grew up together in Camden County, New Jersey and are first-generation immigrants, their parents being from India. And from competing to see who could sell the most candy bars to classmates to running their own hydroponic urban farm, it’s clear that they were determined to start their own business together.

But the HomeGrown team’s mission is about much more than business–it’s about impact.

“We have a strong, local goal,” says Kaul. “Our goal is to serve the local community and speak to the issues city councilmen have discussed regarding food deserts.”

Food deserts are urban areas where fresh food and affordable groceries are scarce and, despite its geographical location in “the Garden State” Camden City is one of the driest.

So, after graduating college Chauhan, Patel, Garg and Kaul banded funds together, bought a storage container in Pennsauken and began their mission to bring fresh food to the people who need it most in their community.

“Grow Local, Eat Local,” is their simple motto and it’s the simplicity and clearness of their business’s mission that made HomeGrown Farms stand above their competition to win The Pitch. That, and of course, the fact that their product is deliciously crisp lettuce and produce.

“People understand food,” says Chauhan. “They can see the problem we’re trying to solve and visualize what we’re saying.”

The Pitch panel agreed, HomeGrown Farms has an incredible way of innovating not only food and water conservation but also employing people and engaging them with how food policy impacts their health.

“All judges, across the board, could see the problem they’re trying to solve is universal,” says Dakota Crow, director of innovation research and development and entrepreneur in residence at Optum, UnitedHealth Group. “They [HomeGrown Farms] are great entrepreneurs, who presented a universal problem with a compelling solution.”

That’s what drew UnitedHealth to award HomeGrown Farms with a prize package and 8-week mentorship to help support continuing their innovative product. The team was also given the once-in-a-lifetime chance to tour UnitedHealth Group’s Optum headquarters in Minneapolis and work with professionals on creating a sustainable business plan–a resource many startup companies would jump at the chance to take.

“We started out a bit haphazardly,” says Patel. “So being able to tour a big business like UnitedHealthcare and see the tools they use, how we can use them now and 10 to 15 years from now, helped us see where our business is going forward.”

In their next steps, HomeGrown plans to use their prize money and experience to purchase new LED lights for their plants and expand their growing space from Pennsauken to Camden City. Their hope is to not only bring food to the community but also employment opportunities for aspiring growers like themselves.

These early steps for HomeGrown Farms are the beginning of major innovation in changing the way food is produced as well as the quality of life it provides for low-access communities. Which is why UnitedHealth Group is proud to support entrepreneurs who are just as committed to making a difference as they are.

“Early success and opportunities are the keys to the success of local businesses and startups,” says Crow.

His advice for aspiring entrepreneurs could be applied to any and all aspects of the way people go about even their daily life: “Be thoughtful, find a team, be mindful of the advice you take, be passionate and, most importantly, be relentless.”

Teamwork, collaboration and fostering new ideas not only spark innovation, they keep it aflame to make our world brighter. To learn more about how UnitedHealth Group celebrating Philadelphia’s local innovators visit uhc.com/phillyinnovation.