The purpose of Client Tell is to spotlight the incredible work of our clients, and to help businesses learn from and connect with each other. We sat down with entrepreneur Doug Calaway, CEO of Your Local Greens, to learn how his Burlington-based startup plans to revolutionize in-door vertical city farming technology, both in North Carolina and around the globe.
An Idea is Planted
Doug Calaway is a self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur. Over the course of his career, he’s started eight successful companies and appeared twice on the INC 500 list of fastest-growing private companies in the nation. He’s launched startups, helped make struggling businesses profitable, taken several companies public and overseen corporations in Alaska, Florida, New Hampshire and even Cairo, Egypt. In 2015, he retired in Durham to be closer to his children.
But Doug’s retirement would only last two months! Once he moved close to NC State University’s renowned agriculture program and the largest research park in the country, Doug began pursuing his long-time passion for horticulture, specifically in hydroponics, the process of growing plants in water rather than soil. “I had been interested in sustainable growing technologies for a long time,” recalled Doug. “I figured with all the Triangle’s expertise, three outstanding universities and resources right in my back yard, now was the time and place to pursue this kind of business opportunity.”
Doug formed a relationship with Eindhoven, Netherlands-based Philips Horticulture Lighting, and together with other investors they launched Your Local Greens (YLG) in 2016. The company is working to employ hydroponic growing technologies to create a series of fully-functioning vertical city farms, the first of which is soon to open in Burlington.
Starting in June of 2018, YLG will be able to grow more than 30 varieties of edible greens, micro-greens and herbs, and make them readily available to local consumers, restaurants, and retailers like Publix and Whole Foods. Without having to travel long-distances, the produce will arrive to stores at peak freshness, and make it to plates up to seven days sooner. The plan is to open more vertical farms across the country and the globe to help meet the demand for more than nine billion pounds of greens per year.
Smart and Sustainable Growth
Philips is a global company, but the Burlington facility will be its first turnkey system in the U.S. The technology will allow for the growth of large amounts of produce in a tightly-controlled urban setting, close to consumers. The temperature, lighting, humidity and nutrients of the crops will be closely monitored, so every plant gets exactly what it needs to grow, as well as an extended shelf life due to increased Vitamin C content.
As the company strives to become a Certified B Corporation, YLG is meeting rigorous demands of social and environmental responsibility, accountability and transparency. The startup is currently meeting 13 of the United Nations’ 17 sustainability goals. Doug explained:
“The interesting thing about hydroponics is that it only consumes about 10 percent of the water a farmer would use to grow the same crops. With conventional farming, two crops planted on an acre of land produces about 30,000 pounds of greens in a year, with 20 percent spoilage. But in our same amount of controlled growing space, we can grow ten times more in the same period, with only a 2 percent spoilage. Eventually we plan to generate one million pounds of certified greens per year in the Burlington facility alone.”
A Greater Mission
But YLG has a mission for more than just growing nutritious, safe produce, and that’s to support and provide opportunities to those with disabilities. “My youngest son struggled with Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia for 13 years,” Doug confided. To honor his memory, 40 percent of our Burlington work force will have some sort of mental disability. It’s a legacy thing. As we grow, we want to show other industries that they can employ these individuals and support them in a journey to mental health and wellness.”
Secrets to Success
In addition to good old-fashioned heart, hard work and determination, Doug attributes much of his professional achievement to his willingness to collaborate with others. “I’ve always surrounded myself with people who complement my skills,” he said. I know myself well, my strengths as well as my weaknesses, and build my team around that. You can’t give up, and you can’t run a thriving company alone. It’s all about the team.”
YLG also looks to Jesse of Fourscore Business Law as a key advisor. “Raising capital is complicated and the laws are always changing, and if you’re not careful you can do it wrong and violate federal code,” Doug explained. “That’s why it’s imperative to consult with knowledgeable corporate counsel during the structuring process. As an attorney experienced in startup business and B Corporation standards, Jesse understands all the nuances and stages of a fast-growing company like ours.”
To learn more, visit YourLocalGreens.com.