Belfast entrepreneur secures £250,000 to grow blooming ‘Airbnb for gardens’ business
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Pioneering online platform, AllotMe, connects gardeners with available space to grow their own
The Belfast-born founder of the first-ever online marketplace for allotments – AllotMe – has unveiled plans for rapid expansion after securing more than £250,000 investment to grow the blooming business.
AllotMe’s pioneering online platform pairs anybody with available outdoor space with people seeking somewhere to grow their own – known on the platform as ‘greenfingers’ – allowing them to rent plots in just a few clicks.
Since launch in May last year, the urban garden marketplace – described as ‘Airbnb for Gardens’ – has surged in popularity, with more than 100 hosts listing underutilised space to grow fruit and vegetables across the UK. Some greenfingers have been successfully renting space from hosts for more than a year already.
AllotMe is now preparing to launch AllotMents 2.0 – a summer campaign to recruit hosts to the site and ramp up the available space for rent by would-be greenfingers. The campaign will coincide with a range of improvements to the platform designed to make it even easier for hosts and greenfingers to make underutilised space work for them.
The burgeoning business aims to increase the number of plots listed by more than 2,000% over the next 18 months. The £250,000 investment. which included £120,000 from venture capital outfit QVentures, more than £50,000 from the HBAN Angel Network in Northern Ireland, and further backing from seasoned startup investors Alastair Bell and Michael Harding, will be used to enhance the platform. AllotMe has already appointed in-house software engineer Nandan Grover, a former software lead at French tech firm Dassault Systèmes, to drive the project.
AllotMe was founded by entrepreneur Conor Gallagher in response to rising demand for space in the face of diminishing availability in urban environments – particularly in London – where some areas have waiting lists of up to 40 years for allotments.
More than 80% of the UK population currently lives in cities, with one in eight homes without any garden space at all, a figure rising to one in five in London.
University of Ulster graduate Gallagher, 32, also gave up a successful career as an architect and urban designer – during which he worked on £30 million plus construction projects in New York and London, as well as involvement at startup Farmacy NYC – to focus full time on AllotMe, fuelled by a passion for promoting sustainability and urban regeneration.
Gallagher, a former St Malachy’s College pupil who grew up in North Belfast, said: “This backing from QVentures, HBAN and other angel investors shows the faith people have in what we’re out to achieve at AllotMe, and the investment will play a massive part in driving the next chapter for the platform.
“The first year of AllotMe has shown the massive potential of the platform, from both hosts and greenfingers, and the time is right to invest in scaling up the technology and reach of the business to meet the demand.
“People across the UK are telling us this is a service they want, and I’m massively excited by this next stage for AllotMe as we continue on our mission to revitalise underutilised space in cities by providing a truly sustainable solution that encourages people to grow their own and eat more healthily too.
“AllotMents 2.0 will focus on encouraging hosts to think about how the platform can enable their space to work for them, whether that’s earning money to spend on other things; manage outdoor space they can’t; or help the environment through passive sustainability.”
Gallagher believes the ability to grow your own has never been more important as the cost-of-living crisis grips the nation, and hopes AllotMe will play a role in helping people across the country cope.
He added: “AllotMe was founded as interest in allotment and garden space in cities surged during the Covid-19 pandemic, but with highly limited supply. That interest has risen even more steeply as the cost of living crisis escalates. With inflation at 30-year highs, people are seeing the price of food soar and that’s why more are turning to growing their own. The lack of available space continues to be an issue however, and that’s why this investment is so important.
“The cost-of-living crisis affects everybody, and if we want to provide a solution for more people that offers access to a healthy and sustainable source of food.”
Robert Walsh, managing partner at QVentures explained: “QVentures is proud to support AllotMe on its journey to creating the future of cities and a more sustainable future for the next generation. We’re also very happy to be working alongside Conor Gallagher, an innovative founder and architect disrupting this industry.”
AllotMe works by allowing hosts to list their land on the platform, setting pricing and outlining the specifics of the available plot. Greenfingers and organisations then find local plots that suit their growing needs, exchange messages with potential plot hosts, and request to rent the plot on a monthly basis. Once an agreement has been made, greenfingers can begin growing their own fruits and vegetables. Hosts also benefit, as their empty garden is taken care of, which in turn, improves the local community’s climate as 25% of emissions are absorbed by plants.
Gallagher’s flair for innovation also included the creation of the AllotMe ‘GrowPod’, the world’s most sustainable hydroponic planter, which featured in the Evening Standard’s list of best new home tech of 2021. The GrowPod only requires seed pods, water and natural sunlight and is designed to allow people with limited space to grow vegetables indoors.