Accelerator Adds Fuel to This Year’s Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference

by Bob Benenson, Family Farmed

The Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference that kicks off FamilyFarmed’s annual three-day Good Food Festival & Conference is well established, as a dynamic event that connects food and farm entrepreneurs with investors and lenders. Businesses participating in the event have raised $11 million over the past three years.

There is an added accent on innovation at this year’s conference, which takes place on Thursday, March 19 at the UIC Forum on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus. The program will include an introduction to FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Business Accelerator, launched last fall.

The Accelerator program aims to build the Chicago and Midwest markets for local and sustainably produced food by providing mentoring, technical assistance, and networking opportunities to nine competitively selected entrepreneur Fellows.

Funding pitches to investors by several of the program Fellows, plus other regional Good Food entrepreneurs, will follow a roundtable discussion on the Accelerator. It will be followed by lunch and a Financing Fair where 30 businesses (including those that pitch) can meet prospective investors. A sidebar article presents a full list and brief profiles of companies pitching at the Financing & Innovation Conference, as well as a list (with weblinks) of the other great businesses that are planning to exhibit at the Financing Fair.

Mark Schulman, president of Eli's Cheesecake

Mark Schulman of Eli’s Cheesecake at an Oct. 1, 2014, event introducing the Good Food Business Accelerator

The Conference program begins at 9 a.m. with a prestigious Welcome panel. Participants include Marc Schulman of Eli’s Cheesecake, a longtime supporter of local food producers and food education; Howard Tullman of 1871, Chicago’s center for technology and innovation, at which the Good Food Business Accelerator is based; Cook County (Chicago) Board President Toni Preckwinkle; Anne Alonzo of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service; Jeff Malehorn, the CEO of World Business Chicago; Renee Michaels of Food, Land, Opportunity: Localizing the Chicago Foodshed, a project of The Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust; FamilyFarmed Board Chair Charlotte Flinn, and FamilyFarmed Board member Jennifer Worstell as they discuss funding and investing in the Good Food economy.

Jim Slama, president and founder of Family Farmed, will moderate the Welcome panel, as well as the Opening Symposium that follows at 10 a.m. The panel features Michael Bashaw, president of Whole Foods Market’s Midwest division and a co-chair of the Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference along with Schulman. Whole Foods Market, which is continuing its longstanding role as a sponsor of the overall Good Food Festival & Conference, is also a lead partner in the Good Food Business Accelerator.

Raj Karmani of Zero Percent (right) and Michael Bashaw of Whole Foods Market

Michael Bashaw of Whole Foods Market (left) chats with Raj Karmani of Zero Percent at a Good Food Business Accelerator event on Oct. 1. Bashaw is a co-chair of the Financing & Innovation Conference, and Zero Percent will exhibit at the Financing Fair

The Opening Symposium lineup also includes Melody Meyer of UNFI, the nation’s largest independent distributor of sustainably produced food and a partner in the Good Food Business Accelerator; Jim Murphy of Chicago’s Local Foods, a distributor that is building an innovative retail market/food hub in the city; Galen Miller of Indiana’s Miller Poultry, which uses sustainable methods to raise chickens on Amish farms; and Marianne Markowitz, the regional director of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The lineup of industry heavyweights continues in the afternoon session. Celebrity chef Rick Bayless of Chicago’s Frontera Mexican restaurant group and Manny Valdes of the associated Frontera packaged foods company (best known for its tortilla chips and authentic salsas) headline a panel titled “Building a Good Food Brand” that starts at 2 p.m.  The panel also includes Greg Gunthorp, an Indiana farmer who sells meat to Frontera restaurants, and Tony Owen of DOM Capital, who has played a key role in funding the expansion of the Frontera Hospitality Group.

The “Good Food Business Success Stories” panel at 3 p.m. is an opportunity to learn about great businesses such as Koval Distillery, FarmedHere, Argo Tea, and Lifeway Kefir.

The formal program ends with a financial community panel with a title that sums up the day’s events: “Good Food is a Good Investment.” Speakers include leaders from the Angel Food Network, SLoFIG, Iroquois Valley Farms, Greystone Consulting (a division of Morgan Stanley), 2X Consumer Growth Partners, and Bluestein & Associates. A closing reception will give Conference participants an opportunity to unwind and do some more networking with Financing Fair businesses, while sipping beer and cider from Farmhouse Tavern, a company with restaurants in Chicago and Evanston that also is pitching at the Financing & Innovation Conference.

The Good Food Festival & Conference continues on Friday, March 20, with its Trade Day, which includes about 100 food and farm exhibitors at the nation’s oldest and biggest trade show focused on local and sustainable food. The day’s program also features powerful tracks on the food business trade, school food, food policy, and issues facing producers.

The three-day event rounds out with its major public events. Friday night, March 20 brings Localicious, one of Chicago’s top food and drink tasting events, featuring dishes from top chefs who use locally and regionally produced ingredients, which can be paired with some of the area’s best craft beers, spirits, wines, and cider. And the public is welcome on Saturday, March 21, to the Good Food Festival, an informative, inspiring, family-friendly, and fun celebration of the fast-growing Good Food movement.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the Good Food Festival & Conference website.




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