2012 Interview with Tess Gill from Brooklyn Victory Garden

“I’m trying to solve the problem of underserved markets for sustainable and ethical foods in the New York City region, in my neighborhood in Brooklyn in particular.”

Tess Gill entered Brooklyn Victory Garden into the William James Foundation competition in 2010. Since entering, Brooklyn Victory Garden has become a neighborhood destination in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn for meats, gifts and cheeses that are locally, ethically and sustainably sourced. The WJF’s Erin Jones recently checked in with founder Tess about BVG’s growth and the challenges it has faced.

Where are you located?

Brooklyn, NY

What problem are you trying to solve?

I’m trying to solve the problem of underserved markets for sustainable and ethical foods in the New York City region, in my neighborhood in Brooklyn particular. At Brooklyn Victory Garden, we are looking to give people options for sustainable and ethical food choices.

How did you become interested in this problem?

It was a problem that I was experiencing, living in this neighborhood in Brooklyn. I saw the business opportunity and believed there must be many other like-minded people. I saw the opportunity to have a business that would work toward solving this problem.

What is your solution to the problem?

Opening a retail store and selling food that is delicious, high-quality, sustainable, and ethical

Who are your customers?

People in the neighborhood

What are some of your major challenges?

Two big things. First, the challenges of running a small business in New York City – the typical challenges of managing people, cash flow, what it takes to run a business regardless of whether I’m selling sustainable food or selling widgets. The same challenges that any small business has, I definitely have them. Cash flow issues are huge.

The other big issue particularly for my industry is trying to find and have good working relationships with reliable vendors. It’s really challenging.

How many people do you employ?

We employ 12 people.

Has the William James Foundation competition and mentoring program helped you on your way?

I got excellent feedback on my plan, very detailed feedback from a variety of educated, knowledgeable people with different professional expertise. Receiving valuable feedback when I was still planning the business was very helpful to me.

I know there are a variety of other WJF resources to take advantage of. Truthfully, I don’t take advantage of them very much because I’m so busy running my business, but I know that it’s a resource I have in my back pocket when I’m ready to network or go out and tackle some larger questions as I grow.

What other resources have you found that are particularly useful for social entrepreneurs?

I went whole hog into my business planning process– I spent three years doing it and reached out to a lot of local businesses. Here in New York City, we’re pretty lucky. I’m not sure how other cities fare, but there are so many free resources here, so many free organizations, especially for economic development and business development, organizations that are specific to certain neighborhoods or to New York City in general, just a whole variety.

I tapped into quite a few of them. One that operates nationwide and gave me many of my main mentors are the Small Business Administration’s SCORE counselors. One of the food counselors there is one of my main mentors that I use to this day. The counselors are free and available across the country–they have a very strong knowledge base to pull from. I recommend to anyone starting a business to make sure you get good mentors and SCORE is definitely a good place to go look for that.

For readers who want to know more about what you’re up to, where can we send them?

Go to our website at www.brooklynvictorygarden.com