By Scott McAuley

Headshot of Ellen Bjorvatn, startup intern for Just Vertical

Ellen Bjorvatn, startup intern at Just Vertical

Ellen Bjorvatn wants to help people make more sustainable choices. A summer student intern at the Impact Centre’s International Summer Entrepreneurship Academy (ISEA), she has spent the summer working with Impact Centre resident company Just Vertical.

Born in Ohio to an American mother and Norwegian father, Ellen moved to a small coastal town in Norway when she was seven. After considering studying medicine she decided to attend the Norwegian School of Economics in Bergen and major in Marketing. It was after seeing and learning about the impact of over-consumption and trash on oceans and wildlife that she decided to apply her marketing expertise to promoting sustainability.

“Consumers and businesses have to work together to make a change, and I want to be on both “sides” – making better choices myself and helping others to do so as well.”

Working with Just Vertical has been a unique opportunity for Ellen to apply her marketing skills to promoting sustainable food. The company, which participated in Techno2017, has developed the AEVA, a modular hydroponics system that can grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs in a stylish unit that would fit with any modern kitchen. She has spent the summer expanding on the company’s marketing plan and brand strategy while contributing content to the blog and social media channels.

“People often have positive attitudes when it comes to sustainable products, but may choose not to when faced with making a purachase. This is called the “attitude-behaviour gap” and is caused by actual or perceived price differences between “normal” and sustainable products, perceived quality differences, status quo, and much more. To reduce this gap and encourage people to turn their positive attitudes into purchases, sustainable businesses need to use good marketing.”

While working for Just Vertical has given her a taste of the food industry, Ellen already has experience working in the sustainability sector. She has worked in marketing for TOMRA Systems ASA, a major recycling equipment company, writing content for their website and social media. But working for a startup is a world away from that experience.

“Working for a large company meant that it could take two weeks and five reviewers before something I wrote made it to the website. At Just Vertical, I can send something to Conner, one of the company co-founders, and it will be up on the site by the afternoon.”

But this startup speed and flexibility is contrasted by fewer resources and formal support.

“At a larger company you feel less bad about making a mistake because they have more resources, but here everything I do has to make an impact. So it is a little more scary in a way.”

On top of her work at Just Vertical, Ellen has been taking in the sites of Toronto. Coming from a coastal town of 5,000 people to the fourth largest city in North America has been an adjustment.

“Toronto is a busy and big compared to where I am from. While the city is big and busy, I love all the different cultures and food that you can find.”

As part of the program, the startup interns spend a summer in one of Toronto, Houston, San Francisco, or Boston. The 18 Toronto students take weekly classes covering media outreach, market size analysis, and even 3D modelling, that is part of the Impact Centre’s startup internship programs. But the core of the program comes from hands-on internships with Toronto-based startups.

At the end of her stay in Toronto, Ellen is going back to Norway to continue spreading the word about new sustainable products and services.

“Waste and food are two major challenges facing the world. I really like that Just Vertical is taking gardening and farming indoors and making a sustainable solution for healthy and fresh food. I want to continue working in sustainability and applying what I have learned in class and during this internship.”

Interested in gaining experience at a startup? Learn about the Impact Centre’s various startup internship programs.

Scott McAuley is the Communications Coordinator at the Impact Centre.