Mushroom Farmer Wins VIBE Competition
Nathanael Engen, an Air Force veteran, took first prize in the 2023 VIBE Business Plan Competition, pitching his plan to scale up his urban gourmet mushroom farming business.
We are reprinting with permission a story published by Premier Media on the results of the 2023 VIBE Business Plan Competition.
VIBE Competition Wraps Up at UW Tacoma
See who took home the grand prize.
By Stephanie Quiroz, Feb. 23, 2023
The final round of VIBE’s Business Plan Competition took place on Feb. 23 at the University of Washington Tacoma campus. The top eight final teams pitched their business plans to the judges and audience before a winner was selected.
The teams remaining after competing in previous rounds — Nightly Nibble, Thriftapalooza, The Bomb Soap Company, The Tiny Umbrella Academy, TAG, ALLI-FI, Nurse Staffing Solutions, and Black Forest Mushrooms — showcased their business plans throughout the day, with judges posing questions following each presentation. The number of participants on each team determined how much time they were allotted.
After a short window for deliberation, the five judges selected Black Forest Mushrooms as the winning team. TAG received second place, and The Bomb Soap Company placed third. ALLI-FI received the people’s choice award.
“There’s a whole team of people behind me that really made this happen,” Nathanael Engen, the Air Force veteran founder of Black Forest Mushrooms, said. “David Eberhardt from North Seattle College is a professor of the entrepreneurship program … (he’s) a mentor for me now and countless other organizations like GRuB in Tacoma that helped me out before I even had a name for my business.”
During his pitch, Engen explained that Black Forest Mushrooms “cultivates gourmet mushrooms in hyper-localized urban farms that help fight climate change and strengthen our local food supply.”
The business accomplishes this by eliminating airfreight emissions and the kind of single-use plastic packaging taking up landfill space. Since Black Forest Mushrooms’ founding in 2022, Engen has been working full time to grow his business. Recently, he acquired a warehouse in Everett that will house a combination mushroom farm, retail store, and demonstration kitchen.
Successfully pitching his business plan and winning the $30,000 prize, Engen plans to put $6,000 toward equipment and $9,000 to onboard new employees.
Hosted by UW Tacoma, the Veterans Incubator for Better Entrepreneurship (or VIBE) competition aims to help both veterans and civilians with no military connections to explore business ownership — an opportunity for entrepreneurial-minded college students to showcase their business plans to investors to promote new business creation in the South Sound.