Ambrosia Global: Erect Food Towers, Feed The World

Visitors to the Florida State Fairgrounds may notice a new installation in coming months -- but it's not an art piece. It's a sustainable farming tower system, and it's here to help feed the residents of Tampa Bay.

In fact, Ambrosia Global cofounder David Wistocki plans to address the global food crisis, one 4x4x8ft tower at a time.

"The problem globally isn't that there's not enough food -- there's plenty of food. But it isn't distributed equally, and there are people who need access to food and don't have it,'' says Wistocki. "These systems are a way to help those people gain access to food right in their backyards.''

One of Tampa's oldest neighborhoods, Sulphur Springs, is designated a food desert. Through developing partnerships with various nonprofits, Ambrosia Global hopes to see tower systems installed in local underserved communities.

"As well as global, we're planning to have a very regional, local impact,'' Wistocki says.

Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful is partnering with Ambrosia Global to source materials for the prototype model, which will remain at the fairgrounds just east of Tampa while the team continues research. Products of the prototype may be sold on site.

Turning A Profit For Good

The team landed on the name Ambrosia because it means divine nourishment.
"As a company, we have a mindset of using business to do good. That mentality will allow us to expand in the right direction. We see this as a long-term philosophy that tackles multiple goals,'' Wistocki says. "Nonprofit models are not sustainable. We hope to prove that a for-profit business can do social good, and can operate and impact in way that a nonprofit may not be able to.''

Ambrosia Global plans to sell tower systems to organizations in developing countries. Towers will not come stocked with seeds or plants. Instead, communities can use whatever edibles are available locally to get started.

"It's important to create something that is sustainable and that doesn't require outside funding after a given point,'' says Wistocki. "Obviously, investment is required for this type of venture, but the idea is to build it in a way that doesn't have to allow for continuous outside funding.''

The company is developing a financing structure around a projected interest from the domestic market that will allow for-profits to "give us wiggle room when we're working with nonprofit organizations,” he says.

Along with plans to launch in Tampa and Haiti over the next six months, the team has made contacts in Sierra Leone, Nepal, Bangladesh and India.

Global Perspective On Food

Ambrosia Global developed from a business proposal for the Hult Prize. The topic: the global food crisis. The project: creating "aquaponic'' systems for use in developing communities. The goal: feeding 200 million people in urban slum communities around the world by 2018.

The small team of undergraduate, graduate and recently graduated students didn't win, but they were in the top 12 out of 50 in a pool of 10,000 applicants. Back in Tampa, they won or placed in a series of awards and competitions. They were accepted to Pasco County's incubator program, SMARTstart.

Then, prize money allowed three members of the Ambrosia Global team to travel to Haiti for research in July.

"We originally came up with the idea of container aquaponics, a method of integral agriculture that uses two different techniques: aquaculture and hydroponics,'' Wistocki shares. "Our plan was to retrofit shipping containers from relief sites and move them into urban slum areas.

"An 'a-ha!' moment occurred on one of the last days of the Haiti trip. We were going up to a pool that was on the side of a mountain, driving up a 45-degree gravel road in a Hyundai, and as we're winding around the side of the mountain, I'm thinking, "there is no way we are going to get a shipping container up this mountain','' Wistocki recalls. "So that was sort of the biggest take-home.''

Back in Tampa, the team focused on revisiting the product and the business models. A new plan emerged for a modular system.

"The tower system has dimensions that are easy to assemble and can be broken down, so that we can bring it to a place like the pool on the side of a mountain very easily. It can fit into the back of a pickup truck.''

Phil Reasons, who runs an aquaponic education facility in Dade City, has been "an amazing resource'' as an adviser to the team. "I think he's known more in Africa than he is in his own small town,'' Wistocki says.

An Entreprenuer Grows

By the age of 12, Wistocki had started a small business as a disc jockey for events in Naples, Florida, where he spent most of his teen years after a childhood in Chicago.

DJing helped Wistocki play his way through college. "It brought me to where I am today,'' he says. "I was always exposed to entrepreneurship, making your own impact, and answering to a market.''

Rebecca White, Ambrosia Global adviser and Chair of the University of Tampa's Entrepreneurship Center, says the study of entrepreneurship "is the same as with any other 'craft' -- it requires practice. Giving students the opportunity to practice the skills and processes of entrepreneurship is vital to the learning process. We encourage students to learn from mistakes and failures, which are inevitably part of the process. Moreover, self-confidence is an important component in developing an entrepreneurial mindset.''

Wistocki graduated with a double major in Entrepreneurship and Accounting from the University of Tampa in August 2013, cofounding Ambrosia Global during his senior year of college.

"Throughout my time at UT, I've operated at the intersection of public and private sectors, and I've always had an interest in nutrition and wellness. It all culminated in this project, this idea of using business as a vehicle to provide sustainable farming and nutrition to the world.''

Justine Benstead is a freelance writer who spends her days walking her dog Chloe in her South Tampa neighborhood, drinking far too much coffee, tweeting, and taking photos with her trusty Nikon. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Justine Benstead.

Justine Benstead is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.