What is your influential quote?
“Most of you think of farming as this continual process of buying seed, planting, fertilizing, harvesting, then starting all over again. But think about the period between the first time your dad had you climb up with him on the tractor to plant and the day you will turn your acreage over to your son or daughter. If you’re pretty healthy, and you’re like most farmers, you’re probably only going to do this about forty times. You’ll get forty chances to plant your crops, adjust to what nature throws at you, and hope for the best it’s enough time to learn to do it well. But it’s not forever” (Buffet 10).
Who were your two biggest influences?
Howard G. Buffett is my biggest influence. He was born rich but showed the world farming is an industry for anyone when he took up farming. If I were given the opportunity to sit and speak with anyone, I would choose Howard.
Daniel Horton is my cousin who helped introduce me into farming and has always been a person I look up to.
Michael, share with us your story and how you got to where you are.
I was not always a leader or a big networking kind of person. I was born with four learning disabilities, dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, and sensory disorder (which can be classified as autistic).
This made school extremely hard for me and I never got along with most of the other kids. So knowing that school would not be my area, I found farming.
Farming has always been a major aspect of my family’s lives. In the 3rd grade, I bought my first pig for 4-H but never won because I didn’t have a fancy show pig. But, that feedlot 4-H pig was my first item in farming that I could call my own. This sense of ownership at an early life would help me be more confident in early career pursuits, like starting a business at my age.
By the time middle school arrived, specifically 7th grade, depression hit me hard. Teachers were giving me 2-3 hours of homework that I could not understand. My grades start failing. I was also trying to work on a farm meanwhile coming to an age where I was understanding the real farm world. Farmers getting foreclosed and losing everything they worked for In a way, I could see that happening to my farm. We are a small farm of 450 acres and at the time just 10 cows. Midway through 7th grade, the depression got to hard and for the first time I found myself trying to end my life. My 8th grade year was spent mostly in depression. I gave up on my basketball team because of it. I had the opportunity to go to nationals for basketball but I stayed at home and watched it because I could not get my thinking straight. Even though I did not go, my team picked me to receive the award for best defensive player when closing program came.
The summer of 2016 is when I decided I would be a person I wanted to be. The idea of aquaponics that I had started working on my 8th grade year I would take seriously. I built my first aquaponics system for under $400. I then went to a camp called Indiana 4-H Entrepreneurship Academy. At this academy, I learned skills that the schools would never teach me. I was learning what entrepreneurship was and how it works.
When the summer came to an end, I had only until November to work and design my company to pitch to panel to win an award. When freshman year started I loved it high school was so much easier I thought. No homework and in a school with 1500 student I could go all day like a small fish in the ocean. November came and it was time for me to go back to 4-H entrepreneurship academy and pitch my idea “Aquapon”. A 200,000 square foot aquaponics greenhouse with the ability to produce enough food to feed 100,000 people. The cost to build was around $15 million. I lost that pitch competition to a dog walking service. In November, I decided to try again at the Jackson County Maverick challenge by taking the same idea and downsizing it to 2,000 square feet. With the ability to produce 5,000 pounds of greens a year and 400 pounds of fish, I received 3rd place and my first funding $1250. This is when I decided I would focus on Aquapon and let this dream become my future. I am not the same person you knew if you knew me before I was 16. I am a 7th generation farmer and I am the CEO of a startup called AQUAPON LLC. Finally, I am an Entrepreneur.
What are you working on? How did you come up with this idea?
I am working on my first commercial size aquaponics system. The system is consisting of two fish tanks 2,700 gallons each and a 5 stage filter system that includes 2160 lettuce sites. The system will have the applied to produce 750 fish every 120 days and up to 72 pounds of lettuce a day. The idea to start with aquaponics got sparked after I watched a video about chinese farmers adding koi fish to there rice fields. With this method of farming they could see a 600% increase in “Profits”. I have lived and worked in farming since I could walk and I have loved greenhouses receiving my first one at the age of 8 so I wanted to include greenhouses into my system. After watching that video I started studying what this method of farming was. I soon learned it was called Aquaponics and it dates back all the way to the floating gardens of the Aztecs. After finally studying enough to learn how aquaponics works I built my first system. 250 square feet inside a homemade greenhouse. I used this system to study and learn more about aquaponics. I built it out of poplar wood that me and my grandfather cut on our sawmill. And bought two-250 gallon chest freezers that were broken after sealing them I built the grow beds over them. I used a 55 gallon barrel in between them as a sump tank and would pump the water to the front of the greenhouse and have it flow through pea gravel containing plants back fish tank where the system would continue. I learned a lot with this system and finally after a full April 1st – December 20th, I shut the system down and started designing my commercial system.
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I never woke up and decided to follow entrepreneurship as I am now. In a way, it is apart of who I am. From a young age I have been building small objects and always trying to sell objects or work small jobs to earn a few dollars. Whenever I first heard the word entrepreneur I never thought a farm boy could ever be one. It was not until these past few months and after filing for LLC that I started calling and considering myself an entrepreneur but I have always been one.
Tell us about the challenges you’ve had and walk us through the process on what steps you’ve taken to move forward.
One of the biggest challenges I have faced in starting a “brick and mortar” business would be funding? To fix this problem I started working on a horse farm making $8 an hour after working there for almost 3 years I had saved up almost $3500 dollars. I have also competed in business pitch competitions and had earned myself $2250. Than working side jobs and 4-H auctions and state fair I had another $2000 to add to my business. The final $2500 needed to buy the first fish and plants and few small pieces came from The STARTedUP Foundation.
The second biggest biggest challenge would be trying to find self-motivation. Having depression and anxiety, I always find myself question if I am good enough or if I am even able to be somebody. I was able to set aside this challenge by finally gaining support from my family after winning Region 2 Innovate WithIN pitch competition (gave the title to Sarah and Sophie). Another thing I found and link to my strong motivation is a thing I could never imagine me doing just a few months ago. I read a book for myself. The book was called “Millionaire Success Habits” by Dean Graziosi. This book helped me find the skill that I will need to network with people, market myself, and different ways to become the person I want to be and not the person others that out of me.
Why do you think Aquapon will be successful?
I believe Aquapon will become successful because farmers are being challenged with producing more and more food with less land on a daily basis. This leads to farmer being forced and challenged with double cropping or adding special chemicals and fertilizers to their field. These than create problems all by themselves. This gives a bad reputation on farmers and the agriculture industry. If the water is dirty, people blame the farmers. If there is no food, people blame the farmers. People even blame the farmers when there is no property to buy. Aquapon provides a solution to these problems. With the use of our aquaponics design, we are able to produce 5 acres of produce in less than a half an acres. We do not need to use harmful chemicals in our system we simply need electric and water and a few daily supplies. After the system is built and in full operation we could go many months without and need to import any supplies. For these reasons I believe Aquapon will successful. We can produce a pound of lettuce for under 10 pennies. And can produce large amounts of it. We also hit the all organic market and have no need for pesticides, herbicides, and even added fertilizers.
What does the next 5 years look like for you?
The next 5 years will be more challenging than any of my past. The opportunity to go to college after senior year stresses me out. I have not fully decided if I will go or not. I have plans to pay off all the construction cost of Aquapon and open a second location in indianapolis or louisville with a large commercial aquaponics system. I also have plan to start buying large amount of real estate for both renting and farming. Aquapon will hopefully be a leading business in the next 5 year with both aquaponics production and the sales of our aquaponics system. I will be designing 3 systems for production. A system like my first 250 square feet, small commercial system 2500 square feet, and finally a large commercial system 10,000-50,000 square feet. I also plan to sell my filter DIY system to small farmers so they can use 55 gallon drums or a small tank to built their own filters. Finally, in the next 5 years I see myself working with other startups and teens to help them find and expand of their entrepreneurship ability.
What is the best advice you have for people wanting to start a business? Or be an entrepreneur?
If you are going to start a business or be an entrepreneur you must be able to answer a simple questions. Why? Every successful business can answer these questions and in most times the answer is there mission statement or called there “Why” statement. Being an entrepreneur is the same way you must learn to ask “why”. Why should you challenge the old system? Why does the world need your idea? Why has it not been done before? One of the biggest lies I was ever told in school was to not question “why” things are done the way the are. Now that I am questions about “why” things are done the way they are I have found success easy and people have listen to me.
City where you’re based out of: Seymour, IN
Social accounts: LinkedIn- https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-claycamp-268593168/ Company Facebook page- https://www.facebook.com/aquapon1/
Hobbies: Hunting & Fishing, Farming, FFA/4-H, Networking, Designing, Construction.