With a background in environmental activism, Donovan Woollard began his career by advocating for people to improve society and preserve the planet. But his efforts weren’t making enough impact.

“One day I thought ‘scrap it’ - if I want to see change, I have to take charge and make it happen myself,” recalls Woollard. In 2005, he enrolled in an MBA at Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School and focused his efforts on entrepreneurship. 

Now, Woollard runs his own company, Transom Enterprises, providing strategic business services to sustainability-oriented clients. “I commercialize environmental start-ups, taking a project from conception to launch. It gives me the chance to turn vision into tangible value,” he explains.

This is what led him to his latest venture, conducting business from a car-park rooftop high above the city of Vancouver, surrounded by tens of thousands of lettuce and herb plants.

Woollard is a driving force behind Alterrus Systems Inc’s pioneering Local Garden urban farming venture that launched recently with the enthusiastic support of Vancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson.

“The great thing about it is the sheer variety in my role,” he says.  “In a typical day I'll have held press interviews, sales and marketing meetings and be transporting materials in my truck for recycling. After that I’ll be talking to investors.”

Alterrus’ VertiCrop growing system consists of 3,000 trays stacked 12 layers high with plants on rotating conveyors to receive regular irrigation and fertilizer. Growing hydroponically in coconut fiber, plants are harvested after 20 days and sold under the brand name Local Garden to local grocery stores, restaurants and delivery services.

“Local Garden marries the best of local and organic,” says Woollard. “Our goal is to harvest 68,000 kilograms of produce a year, competing with Californian salads and vastly reducing the carbon footprint of US products. This system uses 10 times less water and generates over 10 times more produce compared to traditional field methods.”

Woollard has developed relationships with investors keen to develop Local Garden franchises across Canada and the US. “We also get regular calls from India and China. It’s a project with the potential to make a global difference in how we can live more sustainably.”

Woollard is also creating opportunities for various sectors through Local Garden. He sourced staff for the rooftop farm from Misson Possible, a local non-profit that arranges work for people challenged by homelessness and poverty. And, in a move that brings him full circle with Sauder, he is pulling on the expertise of current MBAs to develop a business plan for global expansion.

“Donovan has given our team a tremendous opportunity to work on such an innovative project, the first of its kind in North America,” says Geoff Carran, current UBC MBA candidate. “With the support of our MBA professors, we have been helping Alterrus answer important questions about the future direction of the firm through our business plan.”