SCORE

Each month, Fund 17 profiles an entrepreneur to share unique stories and promote local businesses. For March’s feature, we are showcasing Meagan Burke of Purposely Designed. Meagan worked with Fund 17 in our Business Planning benchmark program in 2018 and has continued to grow and expand her business.

About Kaleb

Kaleb J. Hill is the founder of Oko Vue Produce, a sustainable agricultural company specializing in designing, installing and maintaining edible landscapes and storm water management. Oko Vue’s mission is to provide access to healthy foods in urban communities, in effort to address systemic issues such as food insecurity, food deserts and malnutrition. The inspiration for the name Oko Vue pays homage to Kaleb’s practice of African spirituality. Stemming from the Yoruba tradition, “Oko” is the agricultural deity and “vue” means vision or view. This acknowledgement of the deity of Oko, who feeds the nation, drives Kaleb’s mission to carry out Oko’s vision.

Kaleb founded Oko Vue in 2017 while he was working at Xavier University as the lead farmer at Agrowtopia, an urban farm managed by Xavier for agricultural educational purposes. He studied biology and biomedical engineering at Xavier. During his research on diabetes, he found that the disease was closely correlated with inadequate access to healthy foods, specifically in low-income, minority communities. In effort to combat the food inequalities he found consistent with health issues plaguing his community he began to grow affordable produce in urban farms. Being a fourth generation agriculturist, Kaleb already had the skills to grow produce. Kaleb expresses, “I know food is something we cannot live without [but] a lot of people can’t afford to frequent places like Whole Foods. I want to provide access to healthy foods to the general public, especially those who live in food deserts.” Kaleb has recently branched into storm water management. Since we are a city that has to live with water, Oko Vue specializes in providing innovative solutions through landscape design to address street flooding and protect our drinking water sources in urban areas. 

Experience with Fund 17

Kaleb participated in our Summer 2017 cohort where he worked with Fund 17 Business Case Manager Tyler Sangermano. Together, they worked on business modeling and strategic planning to develop Oko Vue Produce Co. as a food producer and supply chain aggregator for other local farmers in the regional food system. Kaleb shares ownership of a community urban farm in Hollygrove, which he primarily uses for demo purposes. Oko Vue also has partner farms and businesses for commercial fruit and vegetable production all throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and Jamaica. More recently, Kaleb has gone on to work with another entrepreneurial support organization to continue expanding his business, Camelback Ventures.  In January, Kaleb received a $15,000 grant as part of Camelback’s Good Jobs Initiative.

New Ventures

Camelback Ventures is a national organization that has historically supported education focused ventures founded by minority and women entrepreneurs. They recognize the need in New Orleans to create live-able communities for everyone. Their strategic approach towards this goal is two-fold, firstly to support entrepreneurs of color and women founders to grow and scale their businesses, and secondly to create good jobs. Their definition of a “good job” is a job that allows individuals without college degrees to make live-able wages. By accomplishing this goal, the entire community benefits.

Kaleb was one of five entrepreneurs that Camelback Ventures partnered with for the Good Jobs Initiative. In January, all five entrepreneurs had the opportunity to pitch their ideas and business expansion plans for the chance to win a $15,000 grant from Camelback. Kaleb won the pitch competition and was the recipient of this grant. When asked what he intends to utilize this funding for he jokingly responded “you’re getting all up in my business now” and went on to explain that he will use the grant to continue growing his business and expanding his customer base.

 

From One Entrepreneur to Another

We asked Kaleb what advice he would give to an entrepreneur in the beginning stages of growing their business. Kaleb answered “build your network before you need it.” He expressed how critical this can be in getting your business off the ground. By attending networking opportunities and events within the industry you’re interested in, you can begin to build a network that will support you through what he describes to be a tumultuous journey. Being an entrepreneur is not all glamorous, there have been times when Kaleb was eating beans out of the can, but the ups and downs have always paid off. He encourages new entrepreneurs to be realistic with their goals, narrow their business idea down and stay focused. Shadowing mentors that you admire is extremely helpful, even if it’s outside of your comfort zone. Being comfortable with being different is vital for entrepreneurs of color who are inhabiting spaces that historically haven’t been designed for them. Kaleb recognizes that he’s not always going to fit right in, and he’s grown to accept that. You have to learn how to adapt, to be flexible, overcome obstacles and work with diverse groups of people.

His advice to micro-enterprise development organizations is to be mindful when dealing with people from a hustle background, who work tirelessly to make ends meet. While they may seem unfocused, they’re working the only way they know how, often barely making enough to provide for themselves and their families. While he appreciates these organization’s efforts to level the systemically unequal playing field, he’s found that sometimes they interject their own practices and strategies before adequately understanding the cultural and informal nature of the entrepreneurs they’re working with.

Oko Vue is beginning to schedule edible landscape and storm water management installations in residences and businesses in March. To learn more about Kaleb and Oko Vue Produce, check out his page or Instagram @OkoVueProduceCo. To schedule a consultation or installation contact okovueproduceco@gmail.com

 

Fund17

Each month, Fund 17 profiles an entrepreneur to share unique stories and promote local businesses. For February’s feature, we are showcasing Kaleb J. Hill of Oko Vue Produce Co. Kaleb worked with Fund 17 during our summer 2017 cohort and is now continuing to grow through Camelback Ventures’ Good Jobs Initiative.

Key Topics

February's Entrepreneur of the Month: Kaleb J. Hill