IVCA Profile: The Good Food Business Accelerator at ‘1871,’ Building a Supply Chain of Sustainable Local Food
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IVCA Profile: The Good Food Business Accelerator at ‘1871,’ Building a Supply Chain of Sustainable Local Food

June 10, 2015

“1871,” the tech and business development center at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, continues to advance innovation and new enterprise success. Throughout 2015, the IVCA will be profiling the incubators and accelerators in residence at 1871. This week, it is the Good Food Business Accelerator (GFBA), which was founded by FamilyFarmed, which launched the first Local Organic Trade Show in Illinois eleven years ago. 

From its beginning at the FamilyFarmed EXPO in 2005, FamilyFarmed has expanded its reach into many aspects of the Good Food movement, working to identify the needs of farmers, consumers, and buyers to address issues and fill gaps in the supply chain. Representing the profile of the GFBA is Founder and President Jim Slama, and Business Development Program Coordinator Conor Butkus.

IVCA: What is the origin of the Good Food Business Accelerator, and what did the founders want to do within this accelerator that are unique to the GFBA?

Good Business Food Accelerator: FamilyFarmed has been working in food for nearly 20 years. We began the first sustainable, local food trade show in America 11 years ago, and it’s now a three-day event for investors, industry stakeholders, and consumers called the Good Food Festival & Conference.

About 6 years ago, we realized we needed to help increase investment in Good Food businesses, so we started the Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference as a component of the larger event. Through this, we discovered that businesses needed more resources, mentorship, and a pathway to capital, and the Good Food Business Accelerator was created with this in mind. It’s the only accelerator in the US devoted to building the supply chain of sustainable local food.

IVCA: Food, of course, is the stuff of life. What issues in the food industry has sounded the alarm for both general food commerce and developments like the GFBA?

GBFA: Consumers want to know where their food comes from, they’re concerned about what’s in their food and want to forge a connection with their farmers. Local is the fastest growing segment in the food industry according to the National Restaurant Association, and FamilyFarmed plus the Good Food Business Accelerator are working with food and farm entrepreneurs to help meet the growing demand for this type of food.

IVCA: As a non-profit, what is specifically different about your accelerator model than others doing the same, for profit, and how does that help the entrepreneurs interested in working with the GFBA?

GBFA: Our accelerator operates on a very clear set of values we call Good Food. Good Food is food produced as close to home as possible, using sustainable and fair practices. Businesses that adhere to these values or want to transition to being a Good Food business have unique challenges with finding sources of food and appropriate markets, and that’s where the GFBA excels. Our partnerships with Whole Foods Market, UNFI (the largest organic distributor in the US) Chipotle Mexican Grill, major distributors and other trade buyers brings a lot of value to businesses that are affiliated with us.

IVCA: What skills do the entrepreneurs who apply to the GFBA generally looking for, and what type of profiles are you seeing from those interested in expansion into the type of food industries you are backing?

GBFA: The businesses we generally work with have been growing organically over a number of years and need some technical assistance and relationships to grow. Of course, we’ll work with experienced entrepreneurs that are launching startups, too. The needs vary significantly, but all want access to larger markets and the capital that will fund their expansion.

IVCA: When it comes to ‘locally produced’ and organic foods, what level do you think the industry is at, and what is the next level?

GBFA: Organic food has grown by double digits almost every year for the past 20 years. It’s a tremendous growth streak, and the strongest in the food sector. Local food is also a significant presence, but what we need is more businesses and producers that can help meet the demand. The GFBA is focused on doing this, and we expect to make a significant impact on the quantity of local food produced and consumed in the Midwest.

IVCA: Distribution of food is as complex an industry as producing it. What are the innovations in food distribution, and which direction or new method will come out of the next several years?

GBFA: Recent developments in food aggregation infrastructure across the nation have helped local farmers access larger markets. These entities, generally called food hubs, help farmers pool their products and make it easier for buyers to source from farmers across a large geographic area.

Food hubs can have a great impact on farmers in a large area, and can help encourage them to scale up to meet demand. Over the next few years, we’ll likely see more variations in the types of food hubs out there, some hyper local entities serving only a few farmers, to larger ones that have trucking and distribution services built into the facility’s operations.

IVCA: What are some examples of the diverse types of food businesses you are incubating at the present time, and how are they emblematic of the current food commerce?

GBFA: Our current cohort of Fellows reflects the GFBA’s commitment to serve a diverse group of entrepreneurs. We want to accelerator businesses along the entire supply chain of local food. Our current cohort includes an organic livestock and grass farmer, two hydroponic greens growers, one conventional crop and beef farmer looking to transition to sustainable practices, four consumer packaged goods companies, and one technology business.

IVCA: What would you tell the membership of the IVCA about the GFBA that you think makes you most desirable to investors, for the businesses within your accelerator?

GBFA: Good Food has the potential for incredible returns. The recent acquisition of Applegate by Hormel for $775 million is just one example of the potential in this space. It’s the fastest growing segment in the food industry, and consumer demand for this type of food is increasing year over year.  We’re working with food businesses that have tremendous potential, and we want to work with investors to help our Good Food businesses the funds they need to scale quickly.

For more information about the Good Food Business Accelerator, click on www.goodfoodaccelerator.org. For more information on FamilyFarmed, click on www.familyfarmed.org.