Britta Riley, Environmental Entrepreneur

For me, the first time Britta's name popped up was when we were discussing the panelists for the Womens Entrepreneur Festival.  One of the panels was going to be on Green Tech and I believe Britta's name was the first one tossed in the ring.  We all liked what she was doing; creating window hydroponic farms for growing food in urban apartments. I liked her the second I met her.  There is a twinkle in her eye, she is open to ideas and conversation and has been focused on the environment from her beginnings.  Britta is like a sponge.  Someone who is interested in seeping up everything around her as she figures out how to use that information to create a better environment. 

Let's start with her beginnings.  Britta grew up on a ranch between Houston and Austin, her parents are both doctors.  Seven siblings.  Her Grandfather was a passionate environmentalist who was involved with many of the systems we use for farming today.  He felt that that design approach and philosphy of his generation of engineers built unchecking automated systems as a possible knee jerk reaction to manual labor had an unintentional end result of ostracizing people.  In the end this let the environment run rampid.  He told his grandchildren that the challenge of the next generation was to retool these systems for a more integrated human approach that would work for the environment.  He made a huge impact on Britta and a few of her siblings.  One brother is working on a grid scale for green energy infrastructure and the other is working on real estate financing for a conservative land trust.  The family affectionately calls this crew the treehuggers. 

She decided to go to college at St. Johns College in Sante Fe, New Mexico.  A classic institution based on reading and studying the works of the most important books in Western tradition.  A fascinating education. After graduating from St. Johns she came home soon to realize that her Mom who was an incredibly family physician was barely making ends meet.   Britta jumped in and went after claim adjusters and recooped $40k for her Mom and then pressed her to ditch all health care insurance and start Old Fashioned Doc.  Britta built the website and overtime she grew a financially stable business through offering small businesses plans with her by creating a service network and giving the companies what they needed.  It is a much longer story but what they accomplished together is impressive. 

Britta decided to go for a graduate degree at the ITP division of NYU.  Even there she started up a few businesses but it was with Rebecca Bray (who she met at ITP) who became her business partner in Britta's last two endeavors. 

After graduating from ITP, they were hired to build out the website for the Smithsonian.  It took some time but they finally convinced them that they should use open source software.  That was a huge leap for the Smithsonian.  By doing that they were able to push the National History Museum to create crowd sourcing and use their assets through web 2.0.  All the designers and tech people wrote a RFP to create their vision and then the economy tanked.   When the economy went sour the fundings for the museum dried up because there wasn't anymore grant money coming in. Although the project was complete it was impossible to move forward to the next stage.

They applied for an art residence at Eyebeam. It was there that Britta was able to see crowd sourcing in a completely different light.  Her creative peers at Eyebeam were practioneers who saw that the big picture wasn't just about web development it was about creating communities through crowd sourcing.  Rebecca went on to take one of the jobs at the Smithsonsian they wrote the RFP for but Britta went on to launch The Windowfarms Project.

She launched The Windowfarms Project in August 09.  She had already created the prototype of the Windowfarm and published the designs on how to make it. The original launch was small creating small meetings around their concept by putting it on a listserv and eventually launching in wordpress with a social network component on top.  It took about six months until she was people getting more involved. Tinkerer types from all over the world started to contribute to the design and the evolution of the site begun. Once she got a workable design she went to Kickstarter and raised $27K for the research and development on the windowfarm, and then the product was started to sell.

Within this community there was a variety of ideas and concepts coming out of it. Britta has secured the ip for the community with a creative commons like license and funds the community through sales. Community members are contributing ideas to an environmental cause and participating for the personal and sociable value of it.  There are many commercial applications that could come out of this creative vocal community. 

Britta has used tech to create a platform for environmentalists and then takes those ideas to market to in essence do exactly what her Grandfather pushed her to do.  Change the world going forward from the wrongs of the past.  Britta is a budding entrenrepeur in an area that we can all benefit from.