By Bob Benenson, FamilyFarmed
The Good Food movement is on a roll, and rising consumer demand is prompting trade buyers — restaurateurs, wholesalers, retailers or others — to seek out more locally and sustainably produced food from small to medium-sized farms. Yet even in the Internet age, it can still be challenging for Good Food buyers and sellers to find each other and do business.
That is why FoodTrace, founded in 2014 by young Chicago entrepreneur Riana Lynn and and Andrew Hill, is drawing so much positive attention for its technology-based platform, designed to enable producers and food businesses to connect.
The FoodTrace website (http://thefoodtrace.com/) provides interactive profiles of subscribing producers — mainly farmers and food artisans — that show the products they offer, their locations, the geographical range of their market, and other data, and of subscribing trade buyers, with products they are seeking along with other relevant information.
The company’s motto is, “We are helping farmers and artisans sell more and buyers buy better,” and Lynn said she and her team are actively meeting with and adding companies to their software.
“Disconnect between the two ends of the supply chain is a huge roadblock to scaling local food systems, and over the course of the last year, we’ve come to realize just how powerful our technology can be in getting past those barriers,” said Lynn.
She continued, “Store buyers don’t have the time to contact every farmer to fax in price sheets, to know what is in season, and its price. For buyers, going online and ordering from the distribution center, even though the product might arrive fully two weeks after it was harvested, was so much easier. As it stands, this kind of system is less than ideal, and I saw technology as a solution.”
FoodTrace has helped Lynn emerge as a rising star on the growing food-tech scene. She was a member of the first cohort of entrepreneurs selected to participate in FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Business Accelerator. The program — based at 1871, a Chicago center for innovation and business incubation — provided a curriculum, mentorship, technical assistance, and networking opportunities to FoodTrace and eight other entrepreneurial businesses in a session that began in December and concluded in May.
She is still at 1871, in Chicago’s historic Merchandise Mart, as one of three entrepreneurs competitively selected for the Entrepreneur in Residence program launched by the San Francisco-based nonprofit CODE2040, with backing from Google, that seeks to advance minority entrepreneurship in technology fields (Lynn is African American). Crain’s Chicago Business also recently named the 29-year-old Lynn as one of the publisher’s “20 in Their 20s” young influentials.
Lynn said FoodTrace’s services are based on research and interaction with experienced food business hands. “We’ve spent a lot of time brainstorming with food industry experts the specific factors we should tackle, and the three most frequently mentioned issues are discovery, communication, and data,” she said. “The streamlining tools we’ve created are easing the process of buying and selling for everyone one involved. Sharing a great product shouldn’t be stressful — we want to make it easy.”
Lynn’s college studies were in Biology, Chemistry and Public Health, and she had to develop coding and other technology skills in advance of launching FoodTrace. “Facebook got its start the year I began college, and the rapid development of Internet companies inspired my decision to teach myself how to code,” Lynn said. “FoodTrace is a combination of these paths. Our technology simplifies the logistics currently slowing down the exchange of Good Food.”
The food angle, on the other hand, goes back to her earliest days growing up in the Chicago suburb of Evanston. As Lynn recalls, “I was lucky to have been inspired by food from a young age. I grew up harvesting fresh vegetables with my grandmother in Evanston, and my grandfather, a meat distributor in Virginia, showed me how to hunt and took me with him to sell his products at local markets.”
Principles of what today has become the Good Food movement also were ingrained in Lynn at an earlier age. Again referring to her grandparents, Lynn said, “Both of them taught me to value sustainability, the importance of eating fresh and local, and how small farmers and artisans can impact their communities.”
Lynn said one of the best parts about her collaboration with FamilyFarmed — which has included participation in the annual Good Food Festival and Conference last March along with the Accelerator program — “has been linking into the vibrant Good Food community.” She continued, “The energy and innovation of this movement is inspiring, and the opportunity to spread the word about FoodTrace was fantastic. We love hearing about what others are doing, and FamilyFarmed does an excellent job of bringing everyone together to collaborate.”
As for the other entrepreneur Fellows in the Good Food Business Accelerator, Lynn said their diverse perspectives and ideas about how FoodTrace can improve has been invaluable. And now, she added, “We’re also excited to get them on our platform!”
FamilyFarmed is currently planning the 2015-16 session of the Accelerator, and information about applying for fellowships will be published soon on the program’s website and on Good Food on Every Table.