Washington University in St. Louis, Olin Business School
Website Link: www.vertigreens.io
Industry: AgTech, Vertical Farming
Founding Student Name(s): Tova Feinberg & Dave Kanoff
Brief Description of Solution: A scalable network of hydroponic farms providing local, high-quality produce to the business-to-business market.
Funding Dollars: $300,000
What led you to launch this venture? We are both passionate about food, where it comes from, the flavors, and (most importantly) how food brings people together to build community. Combining our shared mission to create a more healthy and knowledgeable community around food has proven to be an excellent foundation for our startup venture.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? We closed our pre-seed round of fundraising, which has enabled us to order our first farm—expecting delivery in the next few weeks (late October 2022)—and have gained initial traction with SOIs from an institutional caterer, a grocery and several local restaurants.
How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? Our MBA provided an immense opportunity to workshop ideas and engage with the entrepreneurial community. We each were working on our own projects, trying to enter the food space, before we had the opportunity to team up on a project through WashU and conduct a market-feasibility study for Agtech startup Freight Farms. Under the guidance of our professor, Doug Villhard, our project led us to continue digging beyond the research and eventually led us to our business proposal. Throughout the rest of our MBA, we had an extremely supportive network of staff, faculty, and alumni who helped us develop and launch our business. Post-graduation, we continue to capitalize on the MBA experience by networking and utilizing the plethora of programs and resources available to us through WashU.
What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? There was not one specific entrepreneur who inspired this journey, but a collective of individuals guided us along the way. Throughout our initial research, we spoke with over 300 people in the industry—vertical farmers, seed technology specialists, restaurant owners, chefs and caterers. Each conversation was pivotal in the development of our business. Many of those connections remain mentors and continue to help us navigate this journey.
Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup, and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? All the entrepreneurship courses impacted our journey, but the most valuable was the Hatchery course (Business Planning for New Enterprises). The course allowed us to gain valuable feedback from industry professionals, mentors, and coaches while we honed in on the business problem and sharpened our solution. By the end of this course, we had a more robust operational and financial model and the confidence in our venture to begin fundraising.
What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Numerous professors made contributions to our efforts along the way and deserved recognition. Two professors we would like to highlight who have been vital to our company’s development are Doug Villhard and II Luscri. Throughout the MBA, both professors consistently offered guidance, resources and networking opportunities that have propelled our venture. Doug encouraged us to pursue this idea following our research project. He was immensely supportive as we navigated the fundraising process, becoming a board member and investor in our venture post-graduation. Even after we graduated, Doug and Il remain crucial to the success of our business. They have been there every step of the way because they believe in us.
How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? We cannot emphasize enough how robust and ever-evolving the St. Louis startup ecosystem is. As students, we took full advantage of opportunities at the Skandalaris Center – WashU’s hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. The center has countless resources, competitions and partnerships—both internal and external—that remain a significant asset to the St. Louis entrepreneurial community. Through the center, we have been introduced to numerous community partners, investors, incubators/accelerators and founders that have proven to be valuable connections. The St. Louis entrepreneurial ecosystem is very supportive and welcoming—it is a growing community of difference-makers who are proactively trying to grow the city and their ideas. We would not be where we are today without the startup ecosystem of WashU and the St. Louis community.
What is your long-term goal with your startup? The big vision for the company is to scale throughout the United States to be the largest vertical farming network that provides local produce, no matter the location.
DON’T MISS: MEET ALL OUR MBA DISRUPTORS OF 2022 or WANTED: STUDENT START-UP IDEAS TO COMPETE FOR A $50K CASH PRIZE IN OLIN BUSINESS SCHOOL’S BIG IDEABOUNCE® ELEVATOR PITCH CONTEST
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