April 11, 2016
Shop Talk

Danish firm plants Mass. seed pencil company in Framingham

Michael Stausholm, CEO, Sprout.

In 2012, three students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a pencil that had plantable seeds instead of erasers and made a deal with Michael Stausholm to have him sell and distribute the product in Europe. In late 2014, with 90 percent of the company's revenue coming from Europe, Stausholm bought all the rights to the company, called Sprout, and began selling in the U.S. In September, he opened the firm's U.S. headquarters in Framingham, employing four people.

Why did you decide to buy the Sprout company?

I just thought the Sprout pencil was a great way to show what sustainability was all about.

Why pick Framingham as your American headquarters?

Framingham seemed like the perfect spot. The whole company was started in Boston with MIT, and we wanted to return to those roots. We know on the East Coast in the United States there is a lot of awareness around sustainability. We saw it as a good location to launch our U.S. sales effort.

We expect a lot of growth in the U.S.. We want it to be 50 percent of our global sales.

How have those sales gone since September?

Since we opened the office in Framingham, 30-40 percent of our revenue comes from the United States. We did $2 million in global sales last year, so the growth in America is significant.

We expect to at least double that revenue this year. So far, the first quarter has been right on track for us to meet that goal. A large part of that is our growth in the U.S.

A year ago, the entire company had two people. Today, we have 20 throughout the world.

Who is buying the pencil?

Corporations are a big client for us. They are buying the pencil to show how green they are, to use in their green marketing. Major companies like Bank of America, Disney and Marriott hotels have all bought the pencils. It is large corporations that have embraced the sustainability trend.

Why are people buying the pencil?

It is a sign of the times. Before the financial crisis, people were spending money on just about everything. It was excessive. Since the crisis hit, people are being much more conservative in the way they are spending money. They want products that deliver a value for them, and the Sprout pencil gives them something extra than what they would use a pencil for. It is also a nice way to show your sustainability.

Where is your growth going to come from?

We are expanding into retail, and we have had a lot of interest from U.S. retailers wanting to put the pencils in their stores. We still want to sell to corporations, but we also want normal consumers to be able to buy it at the retail stores.

How does it work, exactly?

It works just like a normal pencil, but it has seeds and peat in a capsule on top of it. When you are done with the pencil, you plant it in soil. The first time you water it, the capsule will dissolve and the seeds with spread out. We have seeds for vegetables, flowers and herbs.

Are the types of seeds a surprise, or do people order specific ones?

You can order a pencil with a specific seed in it.

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