Darien best friends create plant food company Flourish

Photo of Joseph Tucci

A pair of best friends from Darien have been able to grow more than just their friendship over the years.

Kate Ferguson and Lila Sullivan, who bonded over their love of science and plants, founded the plant food company Flourish, which launched its first product this March.

The duo grew up together in Darien and have known each other for the majority of their lives. Their friendship grew as they attended science programs at Darien High School, frequently competing in local science fairs together. Ferguson and Sullivan were specifically grateful for Darien High School faculty members Christine Leventhal, David Lewis and Susan Ruegger, who they said nurtured their love of science during high school.

"We were definitely the outgoing crew, but we made a lot of dear close friends [at Darien High School]," Sullivan said. "We are still impressed and inspired by the people in our grade. It was an amazing cohort to be a part of and get to experience the scientific community from such a young age."

After high school, the future business partners parted ways for college. It was in college where Ferguson came up with the idea for Flourish based on their mutual love of plants, realizing that most individuals do not have a strong understanding of how to care for them and from the lack of plant care products available on the market for a younger audience.

"There just wasn't anything on the market which could check all the boxes," Ferguson said. 

As the idea began to take shape, the two moved to New York City together after college and held several "corporate" jobs before launching their company. Ferguson worked for "think tanks" in both Austin and New York, while Sullivan was an executive recruiter in New York, according to their company website

But it was back in Darien that the future founders were able to find their footing in launching their business. Ferguson and Sullivan said they credit the Darien community, including those in HAYVN and VentureMom for helping them make their dream a reality. 

"All the early informational interviews, meetings and mentors in Darien is what really got us off the ground in the beginning," Sullivan said. "We have a lot of love for our hometown and the opportunities it has presented to us." 

The duo hopes their company can help encourage young women to pursue careers in science. 

"There are just so many opportunities to use a love of STEM to create a really unique career and also so many entrepreneurial opportunities we would love to continue to support," Sullivan said. 

Currently based in Austin, Flourish's signature product, Flourish Plant Food, aims to be an easy-to-use all-purpose, organic, and sustainable plant fertilizer. The formula quickly releases 70% of plant-ready nutrients and slowly releases 30% of microbe-dependent food, which allows for a stronger root system for the plant and better nutrient uptake, according to Flourish. The fertilizer also aims to make plants more drought and pest-resistant. 

"First and foremost, we wanted to build a product that was both 'sound in the science' and very green," Sullivan said. "We wanted something that could mirror some of the practices that organic agriculture uses and help to not only build a healthy plant from the top of the plant, but also build a healthy soil biome."

The company aims to make its product environmentally sustainable by using a blend of organic corn steep and discarded fish waste from industrial fish farming. The fish waste is diverted from landfills and taken to a facility to go through a 21-day digestion process, according to the duo. The plant food is also made with organic peppermint oil to give it a fresh smell. 

Dr. Carrie Woods from the University of Puget Sound worked with the duo on product development and environmental sustainability goals. 

"Carrie helped us to ensure we were working in a very eco-friendly way," Ferguson said. "Traditionally the production of fertilizer is not a very eco-friendly process. In an agricultural sense, using non-organic fertilizers can also put bleach into your environment and can have some pretty detrimental effects, so we're really working closely to make sure that we avoid those types of processes and keep it a really green product overall."

They also designed the packaging to be "beautiful" and a visual reminder for customers to use the product. Ferguson and Sullivan said  they are also developing new plant care products based on the feedback they receive from customers already using their products.

The company is currently working on expanding its retail footprint both locally and nationally, though it is already available in some retail locations in Texas including The Plant Project. The products will be stocked at Flowers and Flowers in Darien next week and in Showfields in New York City during the summer, according to the founders. Otherwise, customers can order its products online. 

"Right now, our primary focus is getting Flourish into the hands of as many plant parents as possible," Ferguson said.