Sam Lillie, founder and CEO of Vinder, stands in his backyard herb garden in Port Townsend. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Townsend start-up tops Silicon Valley business competition

PORT TOWNSEND — A Port Townsend start-up that connects local growers to local customers won first place at the Silicon Valley Business Plan Competition.

In June, Sam Lillie, CEO and founder of Vinder, was awarded a $10,000 grant and some legal advice for his business plan at the competition, which is held annually at the San Jose State University Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.

Lillie said he competed against roughly 50 other companies this year. Vinder is an online marketplace that connects home gardeners, urban farmers and community gardens with community members looking to buy fresh and local produce.

“I got the idea from a Young Professionals meeting,” Lillie said. “A lot of the young people there were talking about some of the issues they have living here, and one was they felt there was no easy access to fresh local produce.”

Lillie said he heard that many of the young professionals in Port Townsend were working two or three jobs and didn’t have time to get to the local farmers market and that the Food Co-op was often too expensive.

“So they end up going to Safeway or some other big grocer where the quality isn’t as good but it’s within their price range,” Lille said.

Lillie said after the meeting, he noticed a stand of apple trees growing in someone’s yard in town.

“I just walked up to their door and asked if I could sell their apples,” Lillie said.

“It just seemed like there’s so much food going to waste on the ground or in people’s compost because they can’t consume everything they grow.”

In July 2016, Lillie founded Vinder. The business model was simple: Lillie would knock on doors of people with home gardens, ask to help them sell their produce and then take orders from community members for what kind of produce they wanted.

Lillie would bike around town, picking up and dropping off orders by hand.

Within three months, he had hand-delivered 300 pounds of produce.

In February, Lillie launched Vinder as on online platform at www.veggievinder.com. Lillie said they now are connecting produce buyers and sellers in 23 cities across 11 states.

“For the competition, it was great since we could show how much we’d grown,” Lillie said.

This year was the second year Lillie had entered the Silicon Valley Business Plan competition. In 2016, Lillie said he entered with a different idea and made it to the finals.

“After that, I came in dead last,” Lillie said.

This year, Lillie said he hopes to invest the $10,000 grant into improving the current website and adding new features that have been requested by customers. He said he also wants to launch a mobile app and work toward expanding Vinder internationally.

“I’d say somewhere in the next two years, we’re hoping to go international,” Lillie said.

Lillie said he’s already received calls from people in Canada, the United Kingdom and Argentina asking whether Vinder works in their country.

“I’ve got a guy in England that’s saying he’s basically holding a plot of land so when we get over there, he can jump right on it,” Lillie said.

Originally from San Diego, Calif., Lillie ended up in Port Townsend after hiking the Pacific Crest Trail about a year and a half ago.

“I just needed a place to reintegrate into society,” Lillie said. “Port Townsend’s been great.”

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at [email protected].

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