Smart Cookies

Students start a plant-based bakery in Naples.

Nagen co-founders Franko Cardozo and Carl Veus

“Are you sure this is vegan?”

That’s the second thing someone tends to say when trying a Nagen cookie. The first? An audible “Mmm!” as they bite into the plant-based treat.

“These are the moments I’m prideful,” Nagen co-founder Carl Veus says. “Every time someone has a connotation of vegan in their minds, and then they taste our cookies, they’re like, ‘Man, this is good!’”

Veus and Franko Cardozo, Nagen’s other co-founder, are showing Southwest Florida how delicious dairy- and egg-free desserts can be with the bakery they cooked up while enrolled in the entrepreneurship program at Lorenzo Walker Technical College. Lorenzo Walker’s hands-on program helps students establish and expand on revenue-generating companies. Collier County Public Schools offers students entrepreneurship education in middle school and high school. The two-year entrepreneurship experience at Lorenzo Walker—named INCubatoredu and ACCELeratoredu—is provided to junior- and high-school students, who earn technical college credits for business management and analysis. Ted Coiné, a published author who has served as founder and CEO of three startups, has taught the class the last three years. Uncharted Learning, a not-for-profit organization, provides the entrepreneurship curriculum and support for Collier County schools.

In class, Veus and Cardozo, as well as Nagen’s two other partners who are no longer with the company, formed the vegan bakery to fill a void in Collier County. “At the moment, we couldn’t find any specifically all-vegan bakeries in Naples,” Veus says.

The students learned to swap traditional baking ingredients such as eggs and cow’s milk for applesauce and coconut milk, with help from a vegan chef at Lorenzo Walker’s kitchen.

Today, the bakers sell their cookies three ways: at the Vanderbilt Farmer’s Market in North Naples, online at nagenfla.com (they ship all over the U.S.), and in school. They’ve made $4,000 to $4,500 in revenue in the year and a half they’ve been in business, and the startup is only picking up. In a recent five-month span, they’ve made about $1,500, Cardozo said.

“It just goes to show how in a couple of months, we went from making maybe $100 a month to now making a lot more than that,” Cardozo says, crediting their special holiday cookies for a spike in sales. “People really like buying those.”

Veus and Cardozo, 18, are both dual-enrolled students at Lorenzo Walker Technical College and Florida SouthWestern State College, and they plan to keep the company going as they finish school. The community has already backed them in big ways: The Nagen co-founders received a letter from the Collier County Sheriff’s Office expressing gratitude for donating more than 300 cookies at one community event, and they won Florida Gulf Coast University’s Entrepreneurship Challenge in spring 2019.

We have the motivation to get the business through the first stage, and that’s really the hardest stage, in my opinion,” Cardozo says. “We’ve been on the grind every day.”

Veus agrees. “Our goal is to see Nagen become the name of Naples. That’s the big plan for us,” he says.