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Verdtech's vertical gardening system, known as the Varden, is a mountable living wall suitable for compact spaces. It allows for organic farms, city-dwellers, and others to garden without taking up a lot of square footage. The Varden uses much less water than traditional hydroponic systems and provides infrastructural resilience to food insecurity.
For the interview aspect of the Aim2Flourish project, we interviewed Mark Woolbright, the founder of Verdtech Inc. a startup company located in St. Louis, Missouri that focuses on green building within the agriculture industry. Woolbright founded Verdtech based on believing that the world was ready for a more all-encompassing green building business, not just one that specializes in only one product specifically, but one that specializes in multiple products based on different sectors (2:27). Woolbright used concepts from previous businesses he worked for, and essentially combined them all into one, founding what we know today as Verdtech.
Woolbright has one main mission when it comes to his innovation, which is to green the built environment. This includes converting traditional building systems such as retaining wall systems that are plantable (1:17). The purpose behind this is that it can be planted and grown over in order to maximize environmental benefit (1:37). It is evident that he has a very clear plan for his innovation and strives to ensure environmental safety by focusing on green buildings.
Prior to the success and launch of Verdtech, Mark Woolbright’s 4th environmental business, he started with one mission: to “green” the built environment and convert “traditional building systems” from the typical grade to something that holds compost in the base and can be planted and grown over for maximum environmental benefit. With patents on plant-able living retaining wall systems as well as around 30 years of experience, including vertical living walls, Mark has made a name for himself in the built environment business. The inspiration also comes from manufacturing and selling some of his inventions, as well as some licenses to other firms.
Just 4 years ago, Mark was able to get back all of his active patents at once. By being able to collect all of his patents in one place, he was ready to launch and start the building block of Verdtech. However, despite his best efforts and his sense of timing and the thought that the world would be ready for an all-encompassing green building business, COVID-19 hit the world and a halt occurred.
With a fairly old intellectual property on the retaining wall side, a new intellectual property on the vertical living wall side as well a vertical gardening side, it was now time to launch the company forward. While he started working on vertical living walls, some of his early customers were organic farms. Most of these farms were operating on a very thin budget, and they wanted to gain as much yield as they could in the limited space they had. Mark capitalized on the idea that by growing upward, they would be able to utilize efficiency and grow more. Thus, used his system to grow more greens and herbs vertically on the perimeter of their farm without taking up too much space. Passionate farmers inspired Verdtech.
Although they were originally intended for ornamental plants to be displayed in office buildings, restaurants, etc., Verdtech's living garden walls have brought the ability to grow nutritious food to urban areas and organic farms looking to save space while harvesting a good yield. Verdtech's success with city-dwellers and organic farms represents a positive future for food security and access. The Varden empowers the growing global interest of living more sustainably by allowing nutritious food to be grown vertically and taking up less space.
As of October 2022, 56% of the world’s population lives in cities. Increased urbanization leads to more business for Verdtech and their numerous products, such as the Varden. The Varden is ideal for urban inhabitants lacking yard space, as it does not require extensive square footage and can be easily assembled against any wall. As urbanization and the demand for urban gardening continues, Verdtech will see increasingly more customers and revenue while bringing gardening solutions to those who lack space but have a desire for self-grown nutritious food or beautiful plant arrangements.
Another trend Mark Woolbright mentioned was the interest in sustainability, food quality, and food security amongst younger generations. As these issues become more prevalent and addressed in society, specifically amongst younger generations, Verdtech’s offering of ecologically sustainable products will become more in demand, thus benefiting the company greatly.
Many of Verdtech’s early customers consisted of organic farms, who operated on a small budget and wanted to get the best yield they could without wasting any space. Verdtech fostered relationships with organic farms that would prove to be mutually beneficial. Verdtech cooperates with a number of organic farms, donating their products to help the farms grow more food. In return, Verdtech receives valuable data from the farms regarding their yields, concerns, and how their vertical gardening systems are being utilized.
Verdtechs business innovations impact society and the environment because they are a prime example of green building. This business has new innovations that aid society and are better for the environment because their systems grow plants in soil that can foster great food production. Adjusting the soil within the Varden allows one to utilize higher levels of compost for producing edible plants and nutrients for the benefit of society. The business location in St. Louis produces good compost that is shared with others and shipped all over.
Another innovation that had a tremendously beneficial impact on society is creating smaller versions of their vertical gardens. This impacted society because the company was able to make pre-made versions that could be put into a box. This business benefits society and the environment by sharing their systems with other farms and organizations so they can grow more food. This ultimately makes Verdtech a more diversified and strong business.
Verdtech as a business demonstrates UN goals such as supporting an end to poverty and hunger, decent work, economic growth, and promoting the well-being of all. Verdtech is beginning to allow homeless and autistic individuals the opportunity to work with the inventory and sale of products. By doing this, Verdtech is making a positive impact by providing work opportunities and wages. Verdtech’s long-term effects have also resulted in affiliations and partnerships with bigger retail companies.
According to Mr. Woolbright, “we are about to explode with our new deals with the big-box retailers, and so we are going to be able to scale the business. I see Verdtech being able to get to 200-300 million a year in revenue and it could possibly become a public company.” Mr. Woolbright also believes that in the immediate future, growing in soil as opposed to hydroponics can lead to a better quality of food that we all want. “Most commercial companies that are growing food for sale are interested in speed from seed to sale and that is faster done with hydroponics than it is in soil, but I think that soil will become more recognized and popular just because of its nutrition.” Growing in soil can lead to quick and immediate effects that will make it more popular because it is much richer in nutrition.
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Mark Woolbright, Founder