Fresh Connection, a customized logistics and delivery service for farm products based in Brooklyn, won Food +Enterprise: Pitch Competition, presented as part of Food Book Fair at Wythe Hotel on April 25, 2014. The Winner was chosen by a panel of 5 expert judges from among
ten amazing local and sustainable food enterprises. Mariana Cotlear, Marketing Strategist for Event Sponsor Chipotle, presented an oversized check for the $500 honorarium made out to “Mark Jaffe,” (pictured right) Founder and CEO of Fresh Connection.
The Pitch Competition was one part of Food + Enterprise, a day-long gathering that included an Entrepreneur Clinic, featuring 45Mentors and Coaches, and Anatomy of a Deal, giving a rare glimpse of how a Foundation and Investors collaborated to support Farm to Table Copackers. The event was sold out almost two weeks in advance and produced by NE Foodshed Finance
Alliance, a newly-formed collaborative coalition aiming to increase capital access for social enterprises accelerating change in the local food system. Food + Enterprise was produced by key leaders of this new effort, namely, Slow Money NYC, GrowNYC, NRDC, Community Food Funders, Sustainable Agriculture and Food System Funders and Acción. Food + Enterprise was attended by over 500 people. (Psst . . .Participants please fill out a post-event Evaluation). “I had no real idea that I might win,” Jaffe stated, “I just stated the case for my company’s role in improving the food system as best I could. I guess the judges saw the value in what I’ve been doing.” Jaffe was being modest. He received two perfect scores of “5” for an aggregate score of 23.5 out of a possible 25 — an occurrence we have not seen before at previous Pitch Competitions — or with any other competitor. A score of “5” indicates that a business is “ready to fund today” and is most aligned to the Investment Criteria designated for the Pitch Competition, as laid out in greater detail below. So, we expect great things from Fresh Connection.
Something about Fresh Connection struck a chord with our panel of judges, all of whom have been deep experience working to make change in the food system. “You are either crazy or courageous or both,” joked Judge Liz Neumark, (pictured right) CEO of Great Performances Catering and Katchkie Farms. “Either way,” she continued, “what you are doing is vitally necessary, not sexy and absolutely under-appreciated.” Impressive Runner Up Enterprises
The Winner faced stiff competition from 9 other Food Enterprises. Second place was awarded to Kriemhild Dairy Farms, producer of Meadow Butter and other products made from grass fed dairy in Hamilton, NY, near the Canadian border. “I was reassured we’ve been doing things ‘right’ when three of our five judges were already fans of our product!” exclaimed co-owner Lindsey Jakubowski (pictured left). “I enjoyed the whole thing and it was inspirational on so many levels (minus my car getting towed).” Welcome to the “joys” of NYC parking regulations.
Third place went to Radicle Farms, producer of hydroponic greens in urban areas in NJ, sold with roots — or radicles– attached and farmed with help from disabled workers. “We learned so much from the Pitch Prep Workshop and we really valued connecting with other Entrepreneurs.” said CEO Christopher Washington (pictured right).
Every Enterprise Was a Winner
In reality, all the companies that pitched were winners. “Our version of winning: [Judge] Liz Neumark said our CSA tote bag was one of her favorites!” explained Erica Dorn with a laugh, CSA Coordinator for El Poblano Farm, growing Mexican specialty crops on Staten Island, who acted as translator for Farmer Gudelio Garcia (pictured left) during their joint presentation — an important bilingual milestone for our Pitch Competition. “It felt incredible to be so supported by the 9 other entrepreneurs in the pitch– a true showcase of diversity and ingenuity of the food movement in the New York region.”
In addition to the intensive half-day Pitch Prep Workshop provided for each entrepreneur, Food + Enterprise provided a uniquely targeted opportunity to make lasting business connections with other entrepreneurs. In fact, as an example, Radicle Farms will soon be supplying its produce to Field Goods,Brooklyn Kitchen and possibly Greenmarkets Co. and Betony Restaurant. That’s quite another sort of winning!
Diversity in Many Dimensions
Diversity was a consistent theme of this year’s Pitch Competition: “I loved being a part of such a diverse group of entrepreneurs working in such different parts of the food world.” said Diana Lovett, (pictured right) Founder, Cissé Trading Company, that makes baking mixes using Fair Trade Cocoa processed in Auburn, NY. And the diversity this year extended beyond the types of businesses — to the types of people behind them — 6 of the companies are led or co-led by women and 3 are helmed by people of color.
Most entrepreneurs, like Arshad Bahl, (pictured right) CEO of Amrita Health Foods told us that participating in Food + Enterprise was its own reward: “The process of learning from and presenting to this incredible community of like-minded food entrepreneurs reinforced that the sustainable food revolution has significant momentum.” He added “It feels so great to have this strong support system to help the seed that I planted, less than 2 years ago, take strong root and flourish.” Arshad’s company makes Plant Based Energy Bars using many local ingredients and free from the top 8 major allergens.
On Being the “New Kid”
“It’s uphill battle with Judges when you are presenting a whole new category of beverage,” offered Raphael Lyon, Founder of Enlightenment Wines, producer of unique wines concocted in Clintondale, NY from honey and fruits produced in New York. Judge Michael Hurwitz, Director of Greenmarkets NYC, agreed: “Your
biggest opportunity and your biggest challenge is that you don’t have competition. Introducing the customer to a product they have never tasted before is tough.” Despite being a bit of “new kid,” Lyon lit up the crowd with warm laughter when he mentioned his unique bootstrap marketing method which he labeled: “Community Support Alcohol” — a riff on Community Supported Agriculture.
The Show (Business) Must Go On!
“I didn’t expect to get teary-eyed about when I started to speak about the Field Goods team.” admitted Donna Williams, Founder & President, Field Goods, LLC, who employs developmentally disabled adults in addition to delivering local produce to central drop points, like offices and health clubs.Caroll Lee and Nicole Chaszar of Provenance Mealsand The Splendid Spoon, respectively — also did amazing jobs telling their stories and making a case for investment in their early stage efforts.
Judges Jon Zeltsman, President of Down To Earth Markets, Taylor Erkkinen, Founder of Brooklyn Kitchen and Elly Truesdell, NE Forager for Whole Foods, all brought their “A” games too, providing amazing insights and valuable suggestions to the Entrepreneurs. “Just to be able to get these amazing judges attention and
honest feedback was a real honor,” said Nicole Chaszar, Founder of The Splendid Spoon. And, for the second year in a row, Emilie Baltz, Founder of Baltz Works, was once again a masterful MC. She kept things lively, light and moving along schedule (despite the previous panel running overtime!). Three Cheers and Thanks to All!
Last Year’s Models, Good as New
At the beginning and end, we gave Enterprises from last year’s Pitch Competition a chance to update us on their progress. Michael Ray Robinov kicked things off with a video about Farm to People, his online farmer’s market site.
And, concluding the proceedings, Angela Fout gave us the news on Sohha Yogurt, last year’s Winner. Sohha has attracted amazing press — including being named Best Yoghurt by New York Magazine — and it is selling at over 15 retail outlets and farmers markets in NYC and Westchester. We are all amazingly proud to have been a small part of Sohha’s success story so far.
What About Your Enterprise Winning Next Year?
And now, it’s up to you Social Enterprise Dreamers! You will have to put your axe to the grindstone and sharpen your approach so that you may join us for the Pitch Competition next year.
Appendix: What Criteria Guided Judges in Voting?
During the Pitch Competition, Entrepreneurs were evaluated using the following Investment Criteria established by Slow Money NYC:
Small, local and sustainable orientation in the business.
Immediate and tangible impact on accelerating positive change in the local, sustainable food system.
Food processed or produced in NY foodshed (CT, MA, PA, NJ, NY or VT) serving NYC markets. Not just a marketing and sales office HQ’d in NY area.
Credible plan, experienced management and competent advisors with clear path to near-term execution and profitbality realized by raising funds.
Best of its type among similar businesses.
In addition, Judges looked at a variety of impact criteria to evaluate each business:
Environment: Reducing Wasting, Contaminants and Emission — Using Resources Sustainably
Equity: Improving Working Conditions, Living Wages and/or Increasing Access to Food and Just Distribution of Resources
Vibrant Communities: Foster Community Engagement – Care of the Commons — Support Development of Local Economies