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Chicagoness Interviews: Good Food Business Accelerator

Our "Chicagoness" Interviews feature 1871 community members describing how living and working in Chicago affects their businesses and daily lives.

Here's what Jim Slama, Founder of the Good Food Business Accelerator has to say about "Chicagoness":

Can you tell us a bit about how the Good Food Business Accelerator got its start?

The Accelerator builds upon FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Trade Show, and it is the next big step in helping local Good Food entrepreneurs with promising businesses to burnish their professional skills and gain both investors and customers.

We produced the nation’s first local, sustainable trade show at Kendall College more than a decade ago when the school was owned by Howard Tullman — now 1871’s CEO — who donated the use of the space. It was a huge success at the time, with 50 producers, 300 trade buyers and other stakeholders attending, though the Good Food Trade Show (held every March at UIC Forum) and the movement that surrounds it have gotten much, much bigger in the ensuing years. Whole Foods Market became our local food procurement partner at that time and remains so today.

The direct road to the Accelerator began five years ago when we added the Good Food Financing and Innovation Conference to help businesses get access to capital. Since then, a network of 40 angel investors, plus venture capital and private equity investors, Farm Credit, the USDA, and the Small Business Administration, have engaged with our Good Food cluster and are interested in financing innovative food businesses.

That's the good news. One of our challenges has been showcasing deals that are investment-ready. To remedy this, we have created the Good Food Business Accelerator, a Fellows program of intensive mentoring and training for up to eight entrepreneurs in each cohort. The program begins in November and businesses will pitch at our Good Food Financing Conference on March 19.

How do you think the incubator's Chicago location will affect its success?

Chicago is an amazing food city, and 1871 is clearly the center of its universe for all things innovation and entrepreneurialism. We are so grateful to be part of it.

We already have more than 100 mentors and advisors for the Accelerator, many who are regional or national leaders in food. Whole Foods Market Midwest is a strategic partner on the project, and if the businesses have great products, Whole Foods might turn into a great customer. UNFI, the largest natural and organic distributor in America, is also a partner and potential buyer.

Other major buyers, like Chicago Public Schools, Lettuce Entertain You restaurants, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Compass Group, Aramark, and the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition are also open to working with Fellows to source Good Food.

How have you seen the entrepreneurial spirit play into the food industry?

One of my favorite companies is Farmed Here, a certified organic vertical farm in Bedford Park, just west of the city. They have developed very disruptive technology to produce food indoors, using LED lights and aquaponics in vertical rack systems. One of the great aspects of FarmedHere is that most of their 40 employees came from organic farmer training programs operated by Windy City Harvest and Growing Home — programs that train at-risk youth, homeless, and formerly incarcerated people, among others. We helped them connect with many of their biggest buyers, and also connected them with Farm Credit, which made a million-dollar loan, and their Series B investors who just closed. It has been awesome to work with them.

What is your favorite classic Chicago food? 

After attending the Chicago’s Independent Spirits Expo this week, I indulged in a Lou Malnati's deep dish spinach and mushroom pizza. It tasted amazing, and it sure helped soak up some of those great craft spirits! That said, I want to give a shout-out to all the restaurants that have made Chicago an engine for the farm-to-table movement and are helping build the Good Food sector here. That’s where I do most of my dining out, and FamilyFarmed has a close working relationship with the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition. Hopefully, locally and sustainably produced food will also soon be regarded as classic Chicago food!



Topics: Insights

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