In business, it’s all about who you know, and this week a handful of local food entrepreneurs had the opportunity to meet new potential new investors at the Slow Money, Slow Food Pig Roast at Barr Mansion. Slow Money Austin, a local nonprofit that promotes direct peer-to-peer, low-interest loans for environmentally, socially and culturally responsible food enterprises in Central Texas, hosted the dinner, inviting potential funders to meet a handpicked group of growing business owners while also enjoying a whole roasted pig prepared by volunteer Jarred Maxwell and Chef Jesse Griffith of Dai Due.
“This dinner is a way for investors to get to know each of the projects in much greater detail and find one that they are passionate about pursuing,” said Maxwell.
For the investor, the Slow Money model offers not only the peace of mind of helping a socially responsible business but also the benefit of a direct payout.
Slow Money Austin is one of the largest of the 17 Slow Money chapters in the country. The national nonprofit was founded by Woody Tasch, author of Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as If Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered; his book is based on the principles that while the traditional investing philosophy of "buy low/sell high" might work for some industries, that it encourages the wrong priorities in the food system. Nationally, Slow Money has invested more than $30 million in 221 small food enterprises.
Unlike a traditional investment arrangement, the Slow Money model enables investors to meet borrowers and learn about their businesses. The organization offers mentoring to businesses and coaching to novice investors. The Central Texas group has also formed the South Texas Investment Club, an easy way for new investors or investors with limited funds to get involved and learn more about the process.
“There are many passionate people in the food community who want to get involved but that haven’t invested before,” said Maxwell. “An investment of $500 can make a big difference to a small enterprise, and we help the new investor learn how to do that.”
Working with Slow Money can help growing businesses connect to new resources, financial and otherwise. Bona Dea Baking Company started out selling its gluten-free baked goods at area farmers market and has expanded to supply gluten-free baking mixes to area restaurants and bakeries. "Through our work with Slow Money and the South Texas Investment Club, we got into US Foods, our first big distributor account, and now we are looking to expand the retail line," says Bon Dea's Melissa Robinson.
Local farmer Jim Richardson of Richardson Farms, sponsor of the pig who had a starring role at the dinner, turned to Slow Money to expand his beef production, adding more Angus and Devon cattle to his herd. "We've had great success with our pasture-raised pork, and we want to expand our beef production,” said Richardson. “Slow Money can help us do that faster than we could on our own."
For the investor, the Slow Money model offers not only the peace of mind of helping a socially responsible business but also the benefit of a direct payout. “Unlike a Kickstarter-type campaign, where investors might receive a perk, but not a return on their investment, our investors get a payout,” explains Maxwell. “It may take a little longer to realize than a traditional investment, but there is a direct return."
Current Slow Money Austin Projects
Bona Dea Baking Company: Creates organic, gluten-free baking mixes sold wholesale to restaurants and bakeries, such as Hopdoddy Burger Bar, and packaged for retail sales in local groceries like Whole Foods and Fresh Plus.
East Side Compost Pedallers: A service that picks up compost scraps by bicycle from three Austin neighborhoods and delivers them to farms and composting facilities.
Great Bean Chocolate: Locally produced raw chocolate bars mixed with herbs, spices and coffee. The bars are available for sale online and in local retail outlets, including Fresh Plus and Wheatsville Co-op.
Richardson Farms: This Rockdale family farm sells responsibly grown produce and grains as well as pasture-raised beef, poultry and pork to Central Texas farmers markets, groceries and restaurants.
South Austin Mushrooms: A 13-acre mushroom farm in South Austin growing culinary mushroom varieties like oyster, shitake and lion’s mane. South Austin Mushrooms sells directly to restaurants, including Bouldin Creek Coffee House and Café, Cipollina, Barley Swine and Olivia, and through Farm to Table distribution service.
Ten Acre Organics: An urban farm that focuses on an integrated farming approach that produces diverse crops and livestock while creating zero waste. The farm uses aquaponic greenhouses to raise fish, vegetables and herbs, raises chicken and bees, and plants field crops.