How To Get Started:
We do this “what-if” exercise with the class participants in our 5-day live Commercial Aquaponic and Solar Greenhouse Trainings: “Imagine that when you go home, you’ll have 50,000 square feet of greenhouse aquaponic systems, all ready to go.
Who would you hire to run the business?” We pause a moment, then say: “A confident, knowledgeable, and experienced person, right?”
Unfortunately, there are two problems with that plan:
One, that person doesn’t exist! There are so few people in the labor pool who know anything about aquaponics, let alone our commercial aquaponic technology, that you won’t be able to find someone.
Two: if you’re like most of our clients, you can’t afford to hire someone, and will probably have to do this job yourself.
You have to become this confident, knowledgeable, and experienced person! Only you don’t yet have the experience, the knowledge, nor the confidence required. You need to develop all three in order to make your new business venture a success. It is much easier to gain experience, knowledge, and confidence in a new skill when you’re not under a lot of pressure to succeed financially. Starting with a small aquaponics system, with its low costs, but the exact same functionality as a big system, offers a big advantage here.
(Below) Starting your Commercial Aquaponics Business at a small scale with a Micro System 64 or 128 is affordable, offers you minimum “inertia” (easier to change directions if you need to), and gives you all the same experience and confidence that operating a huge system does. Without the risk.
In contrast to our 50,000 square foot greenhouse example, although you may dream of starting with a BIG system, you don’t want to. The worst possible situation is starting up a huge aquaponics system with a $15,000 a month loan payment on top of another $12,000 a month operating and labor expenses, beginning on the first month of operation. If you stumble here, you can hit the asphalt pretty hard! How hard? Click here to read our Aquaponics Failures post. Many of these are experienced business people who have lost from $100,000 up to $13 million on aquaponics ventures that simply could not be profitable.
This is why we suggest that you start at a small scale instead: if you have limited capital, you can start with a 128 square foot Micro System that only costs around $2,500 for system and a simple 12-foot by 20-foot hoop house to provide a controlled environment inside (this is materials cost only, triple this number if you’re going to have someone else build it for you). The production of the “128” will be 1-3 pounds per 10 square feet of system area per week; or 12-36 pounds per week of organic vegetables. If you figure your average price for organic vegetables in your area is $3/pound, then this system will bring in a gross income of $36-108 per week, or $1,872 to $5,616 per year.
Not bad for a business that only cost $2,500 to set up! Even after operating expenses (which run from $200 to $400 per year, depending on costs in your area), you still have a net income of $1,500 to $5,200 per year for wages and profit, and you can use these funds to build your next larger system with. But this isn’t the most important or profitable part of starting with a small system, because you also use it to do your test grows and test marketing with. With the data generated from these, you can make projections using one of our Friendly Projection Tools ( the one we include for free here is what we call our “Spreadsheet Lite”), and predict your bottom line on a large-scale aquaponic operation before you risk your savings (next!).
After you run your Micro System at a profit for awhile, you may be ready to go for the big leagues! But if you don’t have the capital, or are not quite ready yet, a good way to generate the cash flow required to grow is to build the next larger sized system of 256 or 512 square feet; or even the 1,024 square foot system in the Commercial Aquaponics DIY package plans. Using the cash flow from your Micro System plus the cash flow from your second larger system will give you the capital required to expand. Using the money you made with the first system to finance the second, and so on, is a smart way to grow without needing to borrow money or give someone a big chunk of your company just to get some funding. We wish we’d done it this way!
Now remember back in the beginning of this article when we said “you have to become that person”, and were talking about the labor pool that doesn’t yet have experienced aquaponics workers? Yes; there aren’t any workers for you to hire yet either! You have to train all your workers too, to become knowledgeable, experienced, and confident!