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Student Entrepreneur Earning Buzz in Effort to Feed World's Hungry

by on November 17, 2014 6:00 AM

Penn State student Mike Zeangle has modest goals. After all, he only wants to change the world.

In many ways, Zeangle is the consummate student: busy but driven, and a self-described caffeine addict. But he’s also an award-winning entrepreneur and the co-founder of Green Towers, LLC – a young but fully-fledged urban agricultural design company.

His company works to revolutionize the way the world looks at food production by bringing agriculture into urban areas. Unless the human race finds new ways to approach agriculture, Zeangle fears what the future might look like.

“It’s becoming a more and more alarming crisis. By 2050, we’re going to have 9.5 billion people on the planet. That’s 2.5 billion more mouths to feed than we currently have,” Zeangle says. “For agriculture production now we use land mass equivalent to the size of South America. To feed that new influx of people, we’re going to need to increase that landmass by about the size of Brazil.”

He isn’t building a new Brazil, and says continuing to expand agriculture outward isn’t the answer. Instead, Zeangle is looking up.

He thinks the use of “vertical agriculture” will allow agriculture to expand into previously non-agricultural areas – places like cities. By incorporating food production into new places, he hopes to help the looming global food crises.

Zeangle, and the rest of the Green Towers team, has been getting a lot of attention for a design that Zeangle thinks can solve the problem – or at least get agriculture moving in the right direction. He calls it a “living wall.”

He describes it as a vertical conveyer belt that moves around a central point powered by a water wheel. All along the wall are boxes for plants grown using hydroponics – a technique that uses water and nutrients without the need for soil.

“It can be scaled to any height, and the square footage it produces is exponentially more than growing horizontally,” Zeangle says. “It could even be tied into the facades of buildings.”

This concept is earning Zeangle some buzz and respect. The architecture student was one of only five students with a revenue-generating business chosen to present at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards regional competition in Washington D.C. last month.

He was “extremely nervous” about the competition, but he says he’s starting to gain more confidence. Zeangle won the regionals, and will present again at the national level on November 19 in Chicago. Zeangle is one of the 20 student entrepreneurs in the country to have earned this distinction.

If he wins there, he’ll move onto the global competition – which carries immense respect and a hefty $20,000 prize.

No matter what the outcome of the competition, Zeangle says competing has already helped Green Towers make important connections and grow the business into new markets.

In addition to the living wall, Green Towers also has a line of “living furniture” that combines modern design with natural beauty. Zeangle says they’ve sold a handful of tables with hydroponic plants built into them, which can be used for food production or their distinctive aesthetics.

Green Towers also consults with businesses on how to bring efficiently incorporate fish, plants and other life into office spaces to increase worker happiness and productivity. Zeangle says their line of living furniture is the first of its kind to do this.

This all comes with its own challenges and stresses. Zeangle is, after all, still a student.

“A lot of my professors don’t fully understand that this is an actual business, and still tell me to have these diagrams done by next week,” Zeangle says. “But I’m really passionate about what we’re doing at Green Towers. That’s why I’m pretty much killing myself doing all of this at once."

Click HERE to visit the Green Towers website.

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Photo Gallery - Green Towers, LLC designs

Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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