Making It: Akron’s Vigeo Gardens Grows Produce Indoors
Makers: Mark Preston, COO, and Vincent Peterson, CEO
Business: Vigeo Gardens
Basement Roots: In 2015, Vigeo Gardens got its start in a familiar launch-pad for small businesses: the basement. The pilot project was the brainchild of then-University of Akron students Vincent Peterson and co-founder, Jacob Craine, both of whom had a background in the food service industry. Originally, the plan was to grow microgreens for the cancer patients at the Cleveland Clinic, but that never panned out. They pivoted toward what they knew best, the restaurant industry, and the connections they had built there. As demand outgrew the basement, the team moved into the Bounce Innovation Hub in Akron and ramped up production.
Name Game: “We were trying to come up with a catchy name, but also a name that means something,” Peterson said.
The founders settled on “vigeo,” the Latin verb meaning vigorous or thriving.
“That’s something that spoke to us,” Preston said. “That’s what we want as a company. That’s what we want for our product.”
Recent Developments: Since the coronavirus pandemic, Vigeo and Bounce have adjusted practices to continue work in a safe environment.
“Bounce initially began limiting access in the early days of the outbreak, and eventually closed down to the public once the restaurant closures took place,” Preston said. “When the shelter-in-place order was made, Bounce closed down except for essential businesses and essential functions of the facility to ensure that businesses such as ourselves were able to continue operations.”
Vigeo’s primary concern is safety.
“During the COVID-19 outbreak, Vigeo Gardens has restricted access to essential personnel only, as well as urging employees that feel unwell not to come in to work. Employees that are out sick must prove a normal temperature upon returning to work,” Preston said.
Difficult Times: With 18 employees and distribution to large vendors like Giant Eagle Market District, Heinen’s and Mustard Seed, the coronavirus outbreak has been difficult to navigate.
“Initially, the outbreak brought on some setbacks with the restaurants and distributors we sell to regularly. However, once the restaurants were closed down, those sales went to zero,” Preston said. “With a significant amount of our business no longer purchasing and the product still growing and available, we had to maneuver toward our retail accounts in order to limit our waste and get as much value out of our products as possible.”
This new reality has significantly reduced revenue and forced staffing cuts. Vigeo is looking at sources to revive those positions once the crisis has subsided, according to Preston.
“We are working with programs offered through the [Small Business Association] to try to get those jobs back, but at present it is not a viable option for us as a business,” Preston said.