WINDSOR, ONT. -- The winners of an entrepreneur accelerator program targeted at women in Windsor-Essex may have found a winning formula for business during a pandemic.

The Entrepreneurship, Practice and Innovation Centre (EPICentre) at the University of Windsor crowned Ground Culture as the winner of its first ever Venture Women program on May 1.

The small business focuses on “edible landscapes” and may just have what it takes to survive the COVID-19 pandemic as it helps meet the uptick in gardening demand – by going online.

“Just with this pandemic, we had to start this Ground Culture Garden Club without much guidance because we’re all stuck at home so, hearing that from my colleagues and my mentors that they thought this was a good idea gave us the little boost of confidence we needed to just go for it,” says Brandi Bechard, the company's founder.

Bechard says part of the pitch for the competition was the new garden club that would allow customers to sign up for a membership to receive monthly seeds and online guidance to ensure a successful harvest. Customers can even sign up for a complete planter box start-up kit that requires no physical customer contact.

That online initiative likely played well with the judges, according to EPICentre Executive Director Wen Teoh.

“During this time, they were able to demonstrate that there’s actually a need out there for their type of business model,” says Teoh. “Because of the pandemic, they were able to validate their business idea quicker than the others.”

Bechard, along with her partner Vanessa Carducci, have been able to keep up with local clients by offering their services in a pandemic-friendly way including virtual consultations.

“It’s hard to access that type of nature connection so, if we can bring that right to our backyards while feeding ourselves and supporting the pollinators and the ecological function of our area, then it’s a win-win,” says Bechard. “Everybody’s jumping on board.”

The enterprising young entrepreneurs see an underserved market in Windsor-Essex for backyard gardens and edible landscapes.

Bechard sees the demand for gardening services only gaining steam as a result of the pandemic, picking up on the momentum of other initiatives like the zero-waste movement and healthy-lifestyle trend.

“Especially now, we’re all at home, we’re wanting access to fresh and healthy food, but not wanting to go to the grocery stores,” says Bechard. “We’re wanting that connection, feeling you belong to something – gardening does that for a lot of people.”