When you go grocery shopping, do you buy what’s affordable or what’s nutritious? Don’t you wish you could have your cake and eat it, too? Skyler Pearson of Nexgarden knows how you feel. Using her creativity, Skyler and her business partner Hugh Neri are using sustainable design innovation and unique technology strategies to change the rules of high-efficiency vertical farming so shoppers no longer have to choose between what’s good and what’s affordable.
Read below to find out more about Nexgarden and Skyler below:
The problem it solves: Nexgarden is a tech-enabled agriculture company focused on making fresh produce more equitable and significantly less impactful on the environment. Right now, shoppers have two choices when it comes to vegetables: low quality and inexpensive, or high quality and overpriced. We decided we didn’t like either of those options, so we created Nexgarden. By utilizing alternative farming methods like aeroponics and other energy saving techniques, we’ve created a way to grow high volume produce in any climate, creating quality local foods without the high price tag.
How you came up with the name: To be honest, we spent a lot of time figuring out what to call ourselves. It was important that the name we settled on accurately represented all of the feelings that come with innovation, environment, food, and tech. In the early months — while we were still in concept stage, we took a train ride from Portland all the way down to LA on the Pacific Coast Starlight. We sat in the train viewing car watching the scenery fly by and debated names, logos, and our goals as a company. By the time we arrived, 36 hours later, Nexgarden had been born, along with the first designs of our leaf logo.
How you are different than your competition: We consider our competition to be other large-scale commercial operations (we support local organic farmers). We’re better than the competition because we provide a higher quality product at a lower and more reliable price. Pretty straightforward!
How you make money: We’re a commercial agriculture company, which means we sell wholesale produce to buyers like restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, and other institutions.
The best thing about being an entrepreneur: The freedom to create. I grew up in an art community, so for most of my life, my understanding of ‘creation’ meant something tangible — oil on a canvas, or thrown clay. It wasn’t until I became an entrepreneur that I realized creating a company was its own version of being an artist. Every day, I have the opportunity to create, build, and grow something that will be larger than myself, and more impactful than I ever imagined. I know that in most corporations there isn’t much room for freedom or creation. As Nexgarden develops over the next decade, we intend to make it a home for innovation for all of our employees, so that they can share that freedom as well.
The biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date: The most surprising thing to me has been all of the sincere and valuable help that we’ve received since we started. There have been SO MANY mentors, advisors, and colleagues who have been willing to help us just because they want to see us succeed. Maybe we’re lucky and this is just a Portland thing, but I never knew the business world could be so insanely supportive.
Your biggest success: The opportunity to be featured as a Rising Star for OEN, obviously! But I think every day is a success. I realize that’s cheesy, and we’ve won a number of awards and had other typical successes, but for me, each day that we get to keep working towards making Nexgarden a reality is a true success.
A failure story and what you learned: I think our most cringe-worthy and painful failure was a pitch competition at the end of 2017. We had just come off of winning two prototyping/pitch prizes and we were riding our high, which meant we didn’t prepare nearly enough for this event. As you might guess, we crashed and burned! It was embarrassing, but it also taught me that no matter how good you are at something, or how much validation you might have, there is always room to improve, try harder, or continue your development.
What keeps you up at night: If I’m being completely candid, one thing that keeps me up at night is the concern that my gender will impact the success of Nexgarden. I have faith in my ability to lead, to learn, and to grow, but I do worry that I will have a steeper hill to climb than my male counterparts. This thought isn’t exactly a fear, but rather, I use it as a motivation to never stop working!
The best entrepreneurial advice you have received: There are no mistakes, only opportunities to grow.
Your #1 piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur: Do what you love, and do it with so much passion and excitement that it spills out to those around you! I feel like the whole purpose of being an entrepreneur is to put your soul into what you are building, so make sure your venture is something you really believe in. Also, never stop asking for help! Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength for being able to identify your limits.
The #1 book you would recommend for a budding entrepreneur: ‘Don’t shoot the dog!’ by Karen Pryor. Business is a lot of things, but primarily, business is the art of people. Each business is a ballroom dance of interpersonal relationships working in harmony to create a product or service. ‘Don’t shoot the dog!’ is NOT a business book, it’s a book about how to train your dog (or your kids, your coworkers, or yourself). My education in psychology deeply influences how I approach all aspects of Nexgarden. This book is a must-read and incredibly helpful for leading a team.
The song that best describes your entrepreneurial journey: Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. I don’t think I really need to explain that!
What wild success looks like: Nexgarden has farms operating in cities across the nation, providing affordable and fresh food, working in a balance with local farmers to supplement the crops that cannot be grown in each climate. Commercial agriculture mega farms no longer exist — instead, their land is being tended to, redeveloped, and nourished. The Nexgarden farms in urban areas are a location for health and nutrition education and community involvement. The company has grown to tackle more diverse environmental problems, and the scales are finally tipping back in our favor to survive the devastating effects of climate change. A girl can dream, right?!
Your favorite local business: Oh that’s tough. I think I’ll say Honey Mama’s. I’m a chocolate freak and I can’t get enough of their Oregon Peppermint Bar!
What did you want to be when you grew up? Literally everything. I wanted to be a doctor on Mondays, a lawyer on Tuesdays, a rocket scientists on Wednesdays, a chef on Thursdays, and on Fridays, I wanted to just go to the beach!
Is Oregon is a good place to start a business? Oregon is an amazing place to start a business. There is an endless amount of resources, but more importantly, there are kind people everywhere willing to help. We’ve received assistance from PSU, OEN, VertueLab, Business Oregon, and many more. Portland is still a small city as far as cities go, but I’m excited to see it continue to grow.
Fun Fact: I’m an avid cook! Even as a full-throttle entrepreneur, I cook a healthy dinner most nights of the week.