VaVersa

This interview details VaVersa, an indoor farming company based in the Netherlands. The interview is with Olivier Francescangeli, Co-Founder of VaVersa.

Source: VaVersa

What is the origin story of VaVersa?

We started VaVersa in 2017 while Olivier (Founder) was finishing his master’s degree in Greenhouse Horticulture at Wageningen University. The first 2 years were all about development, where multiple early iterations of the product + service were created together with some early paying customers.

Then the pandemic hit in 2020 and we were shut down for a long time - of course, with all the restaurants and offices being closed, they didn't need a garden at the time. This time was spent on developing the Mia 1.0 instead, the model we are currently putting into kitchens. At the beginning of 2022, things were looking up again - everything was opening up for good this time- so we started rolling out the new Mia garden. This is where we are now, except we feel ready to take the next step - to roll out properly in the Netherlands & to start branching out in Belgium, France, and Germany in the coming months.

Source: VaVersa

What are some of the biggest challenges facing VaVersa in the future?

The demand for VaVersa’s solution is growing. We are more and more confident in chefs growing an increasing amount of their own produce in the coming years. The impact of climate change and consumer demands are pushing this through.

However, the market is still young. Chefs don't immediately understand the benefits of growing their own produce and are hesitant about the consistency and quality. We have very happy clients and a lot of great feedback, but it takes a while to get through and get started, especially for larger organizations.

Our business model is service-oriented, but we still operate hardware. Scaling hardware is obviously a challenge from a logistics and financial perspective. Our business model relies on technology and service to support chefs at a distance, so it is important for us to get our operations right. We have taken massive steps this last year and are confident about the scalability, but we still need to prove this at a bigger scale.

Source: VaVersa

What is unique about VaVersa compared to competitors?

What differentiates us from most companies in the industry is that as opposed to one big centralized farm, we put small models directly in the restaurants or their kitchens - we call it ultra-local sourcing.

We also distinguish ourselves from other on-location vertical farm providers by working exclusively with professional kitchens (for the moment, though this may change in the future). This allows us to optimize the product for chefs & their busy schedules by automating most of it - the tech & service-at-a-distance combination really sets us apart. We also have a very extensive plant catalogue with herbs, greens, cresses, edible flowers and starting now, we are branching into smaller vegetables, like chilies, as well. We test all of them extensively and find the best match for vertical farming. Some herbs we have are also not commonly available with wholesalers, so there is also exclusivity.

Source: VaVersa

Further, we also have a subscription business model, which allows us to take care of the garden & not add another thing to the chef's long list of responsibilities, should they opt for the Mia.

Finally, another aspect that we focus on that our clients love is the “guest element” - the garden is designed to be showcased in front of guests and features an interactive tablet for them to play around with - here they can learn about the plants they are eating and the sustainability behind the idea. We feel this adds a new dimension to the guest experience.

Source: VaVersa

How do you measure the impact of your company so far?

In a number of ways, we work a lot with data on the quantitative side and feedback from our clients on the qualitative side. For the data, we work a lot with the sustainable impact the garden has on a location’s supply chain, also in the bigger picture. For the qualitative side we love hearing how we can make our product better & what plants the chefs would like to grow in the garden, but especially what impact the garden has on the guests of our locations - and so far it has been overwhelmingly positive.

Source: VaVersa

What have you learned that you wish you knew when you started the company?

There is a lot we have learned on the way. We look at this as a continuous learning experience, if you have the mindset that you can always do things better, you are always looking for ways to improve and at this point, there are few things we still do the same as when we started.

One thing I learned is to separate myself from what I think every founder has: ‘founder bias’, which is the inherent thinking that their solution is absolutely needed and relevant for everyone. In our case, it was clear from the beginning that the solution was interesting for chefs, but it took quite some time to realize how important it is to nail the usage of the solution, not only the product. A product needs to be user-friendly first and foremost, otherwise, it quickly becomes an inconvenience rather than a solution.

We realized that how we supported chefs was almost more important than the product features. So, we could have saved a lot of time and effort if we were aware of exactly how our users operate from the beginning.

Source: VaVersa

What are some trends in this part of the industry you are predicting in the future?

For the Horeca sector, there are a lot of signs that vertical farming as a sourcing alternative to traditional agriculture is going to become a big topic. We notice chefs are increasingly looking for ways to be more sustainable, which we love to see, and they are especially becoming conscious of sourcing - more so than before.

For the Vertical Farming industry as a whole, it is becoming clear that companies with a clear and defined business model in more ‘niche’ industries have more chances to succeed than the few companies that want to tackle it all. The potential of vertical farming is still huge, but I believe companies need to focus, as scalability is much harder to achieve with limited funding. So I predict we will start to see a growing number of new applications for vertical farming technologies, like the recent cases in the forestry and cosmetic industries.

Source: VaVersa

Is there something current you would like to share about VaVersa?

Yes! We have just launched a crowdfunding campaign (for the first time)! We are excited about the upcoming year and thought we could fundraise part of upcoming needs via our network and the crowds! Investment is possible starting at €155 and you anyone can join us in creating impact!

Source: VaVersa

How can people connect or learn more about VaVersa?

The best way to connect with us is on social media, on LinkedIn we share a lot of updates on the company and on Instagram, we try to really get people engaged with the topics surrounding our company, we want people to learn about the plants we grow, the technology we use and the sustainability impact that motivates us.

LinkedIn: VaVersa

IG: vaversa_official

Crowdfunding: https://platform.eyevestor.com/eyeventures/NL_VAV?lang=en

Source: VaVersa

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