Top Five Reasons to Attend Thursday’s Good Food Financing Conference

by Bob Benenson, FamilyFarmed

The Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference this Thursday (March 16) kicks off FamilyFarmed’s 13th Good Food Festival & Conference — the nation’s longest-running annual event focused on locally and sustainably produced food.

Good Food Financing Conference

FamilyFarmed’s 2017 Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference will take place on March 16 at the UIC Forum on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus.

The annual Financing & Innovation Conference brings together farm and food entrepreneurs, established food businesses, investors, trade buyers, retailers, and wholesalers and distributors. Its impact is major: The Conference — combined with FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Business Accelerator (GFBA) that evolved from it — has generated more than $30 million in debt and equity capital investments in Good Food farm and food businesses.

To provide a little more persuasion, we are happy to share our five top reasons to attend the Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference this Thursday below. To learn even more, check out the full schedule, and buy tickets, please visit the event website.


Leading and successful Midwest investors attend the Financing & Innovation Conference, and many spend time on stage sharing their thoughts and experiences. This year, FamilyFarmed is pleased to be joined by two pioneers — Bill Weiland of Presence Marketing and Andrew S. Whitman of 2X Consumer Products Growth Partners — who also will be panelists on two of the hottest topics on the Good Food landscape.

Whitman will participate in what we expect will be one of the most talked about panels: Big Food’s Embrace of Good Food. A number of conventional food companies have moved into the Good Food space by either launching new products or buying companies that market sustainably produced food. Many view this positively, as a sign that our corporate food system is “getting” consumers’ growing demand for better. But there are concerns about Good Food products being “dumbed down” or used as window dressing.

Good Food Financing Conference

Andrew Whitman of 2x Consumer Products Growth Partners

Whitman brings the perspective of an investor who started in “Big Food” product development — for companies such as General Foods and Kraft — when he started 2X in 2001. He will share the stage with Dave Donnan, partner and Global Food & Beverage Sector lead for the A.T. Kearney consulting firm; Victor E. Friedberg, co-founder of the Seed to Growth (S2G) venture capital firm (which will also receive FamilyFarmed’s 2017 Good Food Business of the Year Award at the Conference — see below); and Julie Smolyansky of Lifeway, an independent company that produce probiotic kefir.

Weiland, meanwhile, will participate in a discussion about one of the most important and challenging aspects of the food business: getting products to market. He will be joined on the Innovation in Food Marketing, Sales and Distribution panel by Sean O’Scannlain, CEO of Fortune Fish & Gourmet; Kimberly Bentz of UNFI United; and Laura McCord, KeHe’s senior director of category management. FamilyFarmed Board Chairman Charlotte Flinn will do introductions, and the panel will be moderated by FamilyFarmed Board member Jamie Ponce.

Bill Weiland of Presence Marketing

Weiland worked in the natural products industry for 12 years when he started Presence Marketing in 1990 — way before anyone thought of Good Food as a movement. According to his Presence Marketing bio, Weiland’s “uncompromising obsession for sustainable agriculture, healthy foods and integrated medicine are key drivers behind his commitment to continue building a world of clean products that everyone can have access to.”


Seed 2 Growth (S2G) Ventures started up in Chicago just two years ago, but it already has had an enormous impact as a pioneering venture capital investor specifically focused on sustainable agriculture and Good Food. This role persuaded FamilyFarmed to choose S2G as its Good Food Business of the Year.

Victor E. Friedberg of S2G Ventures. Photo: S2G

An award ceremony will be held at the Financing & Innovation Conference, with founder and co-managing partner Victor E. Friedberg accepting on behalf of his fellow managing partners, Chuck Templeton and Sanjeev Krishnan.

S2G’s investments have included Beyond Meat, whose plant-based burgers are acclaimed for their beef-like texture and mouthfeel; Sweetgreen, which is proving the demand for elevated fast-casual Good Food; and Midwest BioAg, whose naturally based soil supplements are fostering better soil health and reducing chemical inputs by farmers using conventional growing practices.

To read more about how S2G Ventures marries social values to entrepreneurial innovation, please click here.


The Conference’s annual business pitch session has a hip new name: Pitch It! Good Food Takes the Floor. The owners of some of the region’s most promising young businesses will present their plans to prospective investors and stakeholders who can help them grow. And — even more exciting — for the first time, all of those pitching this year are Fellows in the Good Food Business Accelerator.

GFBA was launched in 2014 after investors informed FamilyFarmed that many of the businesses they met at the Financing & Innovation had great potential, but needed more polish. Now in its third cohort of nine competitively selected businesses, GFBA provides an intensive six-month curriculum, technical assistance, networking opportunities and (of course) access to the growing community of Good Food investors.

All 18 Accelerator graduates report business growth and other positive impact from participating in the program. And, in keeping with FamilyFarmed’s dedication to diversity, nearly half of the Fellow businesses have been woman-owned and/or minority-owned.

The pitch session will be moderated by Bram Bluestein of the Bluestein & Associates LLC investment firm.

All nine businesses participating as Fellows in the current cohort of FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Business Accelerator will participate in the Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference’s Financing Fair on March 16, and several will participate in the business pitch event.


The afternoon Financing Fair provides a dynamic environment, where innovative farms and food businesses seeking capital can engage with funders, pitch their business plans, and forge new partnerships!

This year, 24 businesses — including all nine current Good Food Business Accelerator Fellows and four Accelerator alumni — will participate in the Financing Fair. They will be joined by nine leading lenders, funders and partners in the Good Food space.

Farmer’s Fridge founder Luke Saunders (center with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and FamilyFarmed President Jim Slama in 2015) credits his participation in FamilyFarmed’s Financing Fair with helping him scale his business up quickly. Farmer’s Fridge, which sells super-fresh salads in jars from vending machines, will serve lunch at the Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference on March 16. Photo: Bob Benenson/FamilyFarmed


Just as Chicago led the way in the industrialization of the U.S. food industry in the 19th and 20th centuries, it has become a national center for growth and innovation in Good Food markets in the 21st. The urban leadership will be the subject of a pair of related panels.

The Urban Impact Investing and Community Revitalization panel will address one of the major assets of Good Food: its potential to stimulate economic growth, new jobs and opportunity in economically distressed urban communities. This panel will feature Michael Bashaw, president of Whole Foods Market’s Midwest region; Rachel Bernier-Green of ‘Laine’s Bake Shop on Chicago’s South Side (a graduate of FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Business Accelerator); Malini Ram Moraghan, principal of Drawing Board and a consultant to Kresge Foundation, which recently announced a $90 million initiative in six metropolitan areas, including Chicago; and Mark Thomann, co-founder of Spiral Sun Ventures. FamilyFarmed President Jim Slama moderates.

To read more about Rachel Bernier-Green and the social mission behind ‘Laine’s Bake Shop, please click here.

Michael Bashaw of Whole Foods Market — a participant in the Urban Impact Investing and Community Revitalization panel at the 2017 Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference — spoke at the opening of the Whole Foods store in South Side Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood in September 2016 as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel looked on. Photo : Bob Benenson/FamilyFarmed

The Thursday program will also feature Producing Food Close to Home, with Jamie Ponce introducing a panel that includes Danny Murphy, vice president of the MightyVine indoor tomato-growing company; Viraj Puri, CEO of the rooftop-growing Gotham Greens company; Chris Wheat, chief sustainability officer for the City of Chicago; and Kelly Larsen, director of operations for the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest program.

Also, Chicago Treasurer Kurt Summers will address the audience among the city’s efforts to encourage Good Food entrepreneurship and expand urban farming opportunities.


Attendees will enjoy lunch provided by Farmer’s Fridge — whose delicious and amazing fresh salads and other treats are sold from vending machines — and Eli’s Cheesecake, whose CEO Marc Schulman is a co-chair of the Good Food Financing & Conference. Then cap this industry-leading networking event with an outstanding Craft Beverage Reception.

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