Good Food Accelerator Businesses Hail Learning and Bonding Experiences

by Bob Benenson, FamilyFarmed

FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Business Accelerator (GFA) staged its annual Application Celebration and Networking Event at Chicago’s 1871 business incubator on Tuesday. It included a panel of four GFA graduates moderated by Scott Mandell, a program “supermentor” who founded hugely successful Enjoy Life Foods.

And when Scott asked the alums about the biggest change in their businesses fostered by the Accelerator, the response by Mitch Wasserman of Full Belly Foods drew chuckles from the full-house audience — which was dotted with entrepreneurs who have until Sept. 18 to apply for membership in the program’s competitively selected fourth cohort. [Click here for more information or to apply.]

“When we came to the Accelerator, in the vetting process, I was asked, ‘What is it that you don’t know?’ And my response was, ‘I don’t know what I don’t know. If I knew what I didn’t know, I wouldn’t be here,'” said Mitch, whose suburban Chicago company produces probiotic-rich, clean-label pickled vegetables and condiments.

Mitch continued that his knowledge gaps were filled in by the six-month program, which provides an intensive curriculum, industry-leading mentors and guest lecturers, networking with Chicago’s Good Food business and finance communities, and opportunities to pitch and present their products at FamilyFarmed’s annual Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference. Among his most important takeaways were supply chain solutions, which have led him to source more of the vegetables he uses from Michigan farms local to the Chicago foodshed.

Good Food Accelerator

The Good Food Accelerator Application Celebration and Networking Event at 1871 on Sept. 5 featured a panel of graduate Accelerator Fellows: (from right) Megan Klein of HERE Foods, Jordan Buckner of Tea Squares, Dan Caballero of Fillo’s Sofrito Foods and Mitch Wasserman of Full Belly Foods. Scott Mandell (with microphone), founder of Enjoy Life Foods and Accelerator supermentor, moderated the panel. Photo: Bob Benenson/FamilyFarmed

“In the six months of Mondays,” Mitch said, referring to the weekly GFA learning sessions held at 1871, “there is just so much that you learn, so much that I’ve applied to my business. Just about every week, there’s a thing, even if it’s a small thing, that has had an impact on my business.”

The Accelerator certainly enables its Fellows to access a broad community of Good Food business leaders. This was underscored by Megan Klein of HERE Foods, whose cold-pressed juices and dips, made from local ingredients, already are on the shelves of 175 stores just six months after the company officially launched at FamilyFarmed’s 2017 Good Food Festival.

Good Food Accelerator

Jim Slama, founder and CEO of FamilyFarmed, presented an overview of the Good Food movement, FamilyFarmed’s programs. and the Good Food Accelerator’s achievement at the GFA Application Celebration and Networking Event on Sept. 5. Photo: Bob Benenson/FamilyFarmed

“The quality of the supermentors in the program is really incredible,” said Megan, whose own supermentor is Dave Donnan, the global food and beverage sector lead for the A.T. Kearney management consulting firm.

Dan Caballero of Fillo’s Sofrito Foods, who participated on the panel, not only is a graduate of GFA’s second (2015-16) cohort — he has since become a program mentor. Graduate Fellows “staying involved with the Good Food Accelerator, helping other fellow entrepreneurs” is crucial to the program’s success said Dan, whose ready-to-eat bean preparations with Latin American flair are on the shelves of all 53 Whole Foods Market stores in the Midwest, other grocery outlets and Amazon. {Note: Dan wrote an excellent article about his business development for 1871’s blog.)

And this bonding and sense of community among the Fellows is a point that graduates come back to time and again.

Panelist Jordan Buckner’s company produces Tea Squares, a snack food that provides a boost from the caffeine in powdered tea. Jordan said when he and his partners started Tea Squares, “We came up with a business plan that was well thought through. But once you’re actually making your product and selling it, everything goes crazy, nothing works out like it’s expected to.” He continued, “The Accelerator provided an outlet to step back from the day-to-day aspects of the business to really have a sounding board every single week with other business owners who were at the same point that you were.”

“It’s a great asset to talk freely, openly and be vulnerable to other business owners — ‘This is a problem that I’m having, this is how I’m going to go about solving it, what do you think’ — and get really valuable, honest feedback,” Jordan said.

Good Food Accelerator

Attendees at the Good Food Accelerator (GFA) Application Celebration enjoyed samples from Good Food vendors, most of them graduates of the Accelerator program. Jenny Yang, owner of Phoenix Bean Tofu and graduate of the first GFA cohort (2014-15), presented her recently rebranded Jenny’s Tofu line of products, which are now being stocked by all 54 Whole Foods Market stores in the Midwest region. Photo: Bob Benenson/FamilyFarmed

Mitch summed up the GFA alums’ enthusiasm for the program with his recommendation to the upcoming fourth cohort: “Don’t miss a Monday!…  It’s fascinating, the speakers are unbelievable, everybody from FamilyFarmed is fantastic. Don’t miss a Monday.”

The Fellows panel followed introductory remarks by Family Farmed Board Chair Charlotte Flinn and a presentation by Jim Slama, FamilyFarmed’s founder and CEO, about the organization’s wide-ranging efforts to advance the Good Food movement; remarks by Michael Hennessy, president and CEO of The Coleman Foundation, which is providing FamilyFarmed with a $125,000 grant to build its capacity; and a keynote speech by Anubhav (Anu) Goel, Executive Vice President of Client Growth Solutions at SPINS, the leading provider of retail consumer insights, analytics reporting, and consulting services for the Natural, Organic, and Specialty Products Industry.

Good Food Accelerator

Michael Hennessy, president and CEO of The Coleman Foundation, referenced his organization’s recent $125,000 grant to FamilyFarmed during his remarks at the Good Food Accelerator Application Celebration Sept. 5. Photo: Bob Benenson/FamilyFarmed

Anu’s insightful presentation on Good Food market trends and entrepreneurial opportunities will be the subject of a follow-up article on Good Food on Every Table.

Good Food Accelerator

FamilyFarmed Board Chair Charlotte Flinn chatting with Rob Watson — director of The Business Incubator at Chicago’s Kendall College culinary school — prior to the program at the Good Food Accelerator’s Application Celebration on Sept. 5. In the left background are two graduates of the Good Food Accelerator: Javier Haro of Food and Dan Caballero of Fillo’s Sofrito Foods. Photo: Bob Benenson/FamilyFarmed



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