by Bob Benenson, FamilyFarmed
Family Farmed‘s new Good Food Business Accelerator is the latest extension of the Chicago non-profit’s efforts to help entrepreneurs build the Good Food movement — a term that covers a vast range of activities in the local and sustainable food sectors. And the Accelerator’s first nine Fellows, announced Thursday, reflect that diversity.
There is certainly diversity of business types and geography among this inaugural group of Fellows, who will receive mentoring, instruction, technical assistance, and networking opportunities under the Accelerator program.
An eclectic cluster of food businesses in the city of Chicago includes Phoenix Soy, which makes and sells tofu and soy milk; Spark of the Heart, which makes and markets dried soup and salad mixes; Ro’s Beverages, which produces a traditional Middle Eastern tea-like drink; The Urban Canopy, an urban agriculture enterprise; dailyServing, whose healthy offerings center on cold-pressed juice; and FoodTrace, which connects food sellers and buyers through a proprietary online platform.
Then there are rural farms that extend the Accelerator’s reach to the outer edges of the Chicago foodshed. They include Mint Creek Farm, a producer of grass-fed, pasture-raised livestock; Living Waters Farm, a year-round greenhouse produce grower, located southwest of the city, and Jakobs Brothers Farms, a beef cattle and grain operation in western Illinois.
And the Fellows group reflects the demographic diversity of the Good Food movement. Three of the participants — Rowida Assalimy of Ro’s Beverages, Riana Lynn of FoodTrace, and Jenny Yang of Phoenix Soy — are women. Lynn and Thomas Frierson of Spark of the Heart are African-American, Alberto Rincón of The Urban Canopy is Hispanic, Yang is Taiwanese-American, Assalimy is of Yemeni heritage, and Nik Jakobs of Jakobs Brothers is the grandson of a Holocaust refugee who emigrated to the United States and founded the farm in 1949.
The two things that all of the Fellows have in common is that they are driven to succeed and grow their businesses into profitable job-producing enterprises, and are committed to expanding the supply of locally and sustainably produced food to meet the fast-rising consumer demand for these products.
“The Good Food Business Accelerator gets businesses ready for prime time, giving them the skills to raise funding to launch or scale up,” said Jim Slama, president of FamilyFarmed, who has been a leading advocate for the Good Food movement since he founded the organization more than 15 years ago. “The GFBA has first-class partners that will support Fellows to be major players in a thriving Good Food cluster.”
Slama noted that the Accelerator is built upon the successes of FamilyFarmed and its Good Food Trade Show and Financing & Innovation Conference, held each March in Chicago. They are the oldest and most advanced regional Good Food industry gatherings in the U.S. In fact, each of the Fellows will be prepared to pitch their business concepts to an audience of experienced investors and financiers at the 2015 Financing conference, which will be held on Thursday, March 19.
The Accelerator program is strategically located at 1871, the business incubator in Chicago’s historic Merchandise Mart that has emerged as the city’s leading center for entrepreneurial innovation. “The Good Food Business Accelerator aligns perfectly with 1871’s mission to foster economic and job growth by facilitating the efforts of creative entrepreneurs across every important market sector,” said Howard A. Tullman, CEO of 1871. “FamilyFarmed already has had a major impact in this industry and will open up important new avenues at 1871 for businesses in the thriving Good Food sector.”
The Good Food Business Accelerator has support from industry heavyweights, foundations, and government agencies that work to foster expansion of the markets for local foods. Whole Foods Market, the nation’s largest natural foods supermarket chain, and UNFI, the nation’s leading distributor of natural and organic food, are strategic partners on the GBFA project. Lead funding came from Food:Land:Opportunity — Localizing the Chicago Foodshed, an initiative of the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust that seeks to strengthen the resiliency of the region by increasing the supply of local and sustainable food. In addition, the GFBA earned a $99,673 grant from the USDA’s Local Food Promotion Program and a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration Growth Accelerator Fund Competition.
Meet the 2014-15 Good Food Business Accelerator Fellows. Media requests for interviews with the fellows should be sent to FamilyFarmed communications specialist Bob Benenson at email@example.com.
These mini-profiles include the distances from these businesses to City Hall in downtown Chicago to underscore the breadth of the Chicago Good Food market. Links are provided to full profiles of each of the fellows on the Good Food Business Accelerator website.
Rowida Assalimy, Ro’s Beverages
Produces Kishr, a traditional Middle Eastern wellness beverage
Based in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood
5 miles from downtown Chicago
Raises grass-fed, pasture-raised livestock and sells meat in the Chicago market.
Located in Cabery, Illinois
85 miles southwest of downtown Chicago
Shane Christensen, dailyServing
Produces a variety of healthy products based on dried fruits and vegetables, cold-pressed juices, nuts and other functional foods
Based on Chicago’s Near West Side neighborhood
1 mile from downtown Chicago
Thomas Frierson, Spark of the Heart
Produces dried bean-based soup mixes, bean salads, and beans-and-rice side dishes
Based in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood
8 miles from downtown Chicago
Nik Jakobs, Jakobs Brothers Farms
Raises beef cattle and grain
Located in Sterling, Illinois
121 miles west of downtown Chicago
Developed and employs an online platform that facilitates business relationships across the food supply chain
Located in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood
3 miles from downtown Chicago
Alberto Rincón, The Urban Canopy
Indoor growing, composting, farmers market management, and urban community farming
Based in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood
8 miles from downtown Chicago
Mark Schneider, Living Water Farms
Grows salad greens, microgreens, herbs and edible flowers year-round in a greenhouse
Located in Strawn, Illinois
112 miles southwest of downtown Chicago
Produces fresh and prepared tofu products and soy milk
Based in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood
9 miles from downtown Chicago