On the third floor of Bounce Innovation Hub, located in a former tire manufacturing plant building, is a thriving model of responsible and sustainable farming that is producing about 550 pounds of lettuce, herbs and microgreens each day.
Vigeo Gardens is an indoor agricultural business started by two friends, Vincent Peterson and Jacob Craine. The company, which is part of the Bounce Technology Incubator program, applies some of the same principles used in manufacturing to automate and standardize the production of their hydroponic greens, so they can double their yield per square footage of space.
“In the Bounce incubator, we are creating a standardized farming model at a one-fifth scale,” said Peterson. “This model reduces material cost and labor, including decreasing the number of human touches with our produce from 11 to two to increase staff efficiency. Once we are able to demonstrate performance, we’ll replicate this model to full scale.”
When Peterson and Craine started Vigeo Gardens in 2014, they initially thought their target customers would be cancer patients who want produce grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Instead, they saw growing demand for their products equally split between food distributors/restaurants and food retailers. This has been profitable for them, but also presented some challenges recently.
“It was a huge learning curve when one of our biggest customers was a pizza chain that failed in 2017. Then when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the restaurant industry hard, we suddenly lost half our customers,” Peterson said.
Today the mix of customers is 35%-65%, with food retailers making up the lion’s share. Part of belonging to the incubator program, Vigeo Gardens has benefitted from access to Elijah Stambaugh, an entrepreneur-in-residence, who has helped them address these challenges and ensure they are well positioned for growth and continued success.
“As an entrepreneur, one of your biggest challenges is goal-casting,” said Peterson. “You can have dreams or ambition, but you also need measurable objectives that are well-defined. If you don’t know what you are aiming for, you’re bound to miss.”
Stambaugh has applied his wide breadth of knowledge in manufacturing and technology to help Vigeo Gardens hit its targets, while providing outside perspective and insight. The company now has 20 full-time employees and Peterson is proud to offer competitive wages and full benefits.
As Vigeo Gardens continues to increase its capacity and its revenue, Peterson is equally excited about his company’s role in supporting agricultural innovations and environmentally responsible farming. Greens are grown from seed in a controlled indoor environment and delivered at peak freshness within 24 hours of harvest.
“Being purpose-driven versus profit-driven is fulfilling and gives you the fuel to keep going,” he said. “You also need to realize you will be told ‘no’ more times than you can fathom, so you need to find out why in order to succeed.”
In addition, Peterson recommends that aspiring entrepreneurs maintain an insatiable curiosity and be open to new ideas and information.
“The second you stop listening or think you know best and there is nothing more to learn, you are doomed,” he said. “You also need to love what you do. That focus will make you walk through walls.”
About the author
Jill Wodtley, APR, is a freelance writer and owner of Fine Point Public Relations and Advertising. An accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America, she develops and implements marketing communications, public relations and advertising initiatives for a variety of clients, ranging from health care and social service agencies to industrial/manufacturing firms.