Helga Fellows is an engineer by training. She’s comfortable with schematics, project plans, piping and process improvement. What really worried her was telling the story of why she wanted to start this company. Helga has a passion for education and for raising sustainable food. Her mission is to “create the next generation of locavores – young people who know – and care – where their food comes from.”
It’s easy to get caught up in Helga’s enthusiasm for her company, Gyo Greens (pronounced GHEE-o, which means “fish” in Japanese.) Gyo Greens is a aquaponics facility based in Ponte Vedra, just blocks from Helga’s family home and her young son’s school. One-on-one, Helga is warm and engaging. But she was really concerned about how to promote her fledgling company, which was beginning to attract attention from supporters and reporters.
Helga signed up for the Jacksonville Women Business Center’s Marketing Matters program in 2013 at the last-minute recommendation from a Ponte Vedra acquaintance. I was assigned as her mentor, along with Karen Butler of the Morgan Company, a family-owned promotional items business based in Jacksonville Beach. Like many technical professionals, Helga viewed marketing as something foreign, requiring skills she simply didn’t have. My job, as her mentor, was to help her translate her passion for sustainable farming into a cohesive narrative that would become the basis for her marketing message and future marketing plan.
Many people have heard of hydroponics, which is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. Aquaponics is a sustainable farming method which combines a traditional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals – in the case of Gyo Greens, fish - in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. In The Gyo Greens system, the waste from the fish is sent to be filtered out by the plants as vital nutrients, after which the cleansed water is recirculated back to the animals.
Helga’s business was so new that the facility was still being built. She was busy every day with contractors, inspectors and research. We met on a regular basis at the Palm Valley Fish Camp a few blocks from her building site, a popular local restaurant which would become the first customer for her organic greens.
Since Helga’s passion and back story would be an important part of her marketing, we focused on combining her personal point of view with the technical explanation of aquaponics and weaving them into compelling and sticky messages for her prospective customers and the local community, who were very interested in the facility as it was being built. Gradually, Helga developed a succinct narrative that she felt confident delivering in a variety of settings.
When you live your values, marketing your company is easy. Helga is deeply committed to sustainable practices and the principles of permaculture:
Take care of people
Share the surplus
Helga practices these values in every aspect of her business. She employed community contractors in building the facility; many of them were neighbors and friends. She used recycled glass and concrete in the building and the park that surrounds it, and the power comes from solar panels. The park is being planted with native plants in a beautiful and sustainable landscape project.
Helga is one of a new breed of social entrepreneurs, those who start a company not just to make money, but also to make the world a better place. The joy of being a mentor, for me, is to give clients like Helga the words to describe the meaningful work she’s doing. After all, she’s doing the hard part: making the world a better place. Finding the right words to talk about it is easy.
See Helga’s beautiful facility and organically grown artisanal greens at her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/gyogreensPVB
Taste her delicious greens at Moxie’s at the Town Center, Palm Valley Fish Camp, Medure, Azurea at One Ocean, and other fine restaurants in the local area.
Discover the right words to say to reach your business goals (with a plan to get you there) in the Marketing Matters program. Like Helga, you’ll learn the strategies and skills to give your business what it needs to grow.
Click here to learn more about Marketing Matters and download the application. The 2015 program kicks off in January and delivers thousands of dollars’ worth of professional consulting within a proprietary learning program for one low fee of $375 ($300 if you are an ethnic or regional Chamber member or a member of the JAX Chamber).
Candace Moody is a writer based in Jacksonville. She has been a member of the Jacksonville Women’s Business Center Advisory Board and a mentor since 2004.