Did someone say, “The nexus of food and money?” Why yes. This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Food + Enterprise Summit: April 8 and 9, promising to serve up two of most everyone’s favorites: food, plus a way to make money from an edible enterprise. There’s a far-reaching back-story but bottom line, if one is a food and drink entrepreneur looking for a bona fide path to sponsored investment, there probably is no better forum to attend.
This Examiner interviewed Derek Denckla, Executive Director, Food + Enterprise, who has also directed Slow Money NYC since 2011 – managing its angel network: Foodshed Investors NY – the first dedicated to funding small, local, and sustainable food businesses, in addition to providing his own equity – (read money) and “sustainable business consulting through his own firm, Denckla. If Denckla didn’t already exist, foodies might be forgiven for dreaming him up.
From every indication, it appears that Denckla was meant to be a success from the get-go. Researching his background, one finds he is an accomplished New York real estate investor, an impressive investor who – thank goodness – used his wealth and skills to pivot to sustainable food and farms and building ethical, environmental communities and networks.
The entire team at Food + Enterprise possesses the food and finance pedigree as well. And the reason all this chest-thumping is critical is the accumulated experience informs the content and the program. Attendees can trust the socially responsible organizers as committed, been-there/done-that leadership professionals who also have skin in the game. This is no long-winded, talking head food boondoggle. Rather the program is varied, actionable, educational – and loaded with networking, business development. And oh yes, there’s food and drink!
The theme of this year’s two day event is: Finding Food Value: Balancing Purpose and Profit.
The Food + Enterprise details the full program schedule; here is a sampling to tempt would-be Mouth start-ups (which Denckla help fund, by the way.)
Pitchfest – select “food-preneurs” present their business plans and get feedback from a panel of experts and would-be investors. “Connect to real money in the room.”
Expert Exchange – one-on-one coaching
Meet and Eat Marketplace – food and drink showcase (see, lots of food tasting)
Small groups at the Jeffersonian Dinners – (discuss, for example, “How to change the nature of the food system,” says Denckla. Of course, the menu features, “New American – with sustainable seafood and seasonal, spring vegetables,” according to Chef Jacob Rosette.) There are also scads of workshops (at most conferences the speakers usually scoot but here, the Summit has created two special spaces so that attendees can “dig in deeper” and engage with the expert speaker – no block and tackling required! And there are lots of opportunities to network — there’s even a “networking lounge,” and what sounds like music to food entrepreneurs: a “deal room,” and a CFO on speed-dial, along with a tour of the Pfizer Building, the incubator space and site of the summit.
Denckla explained how this year’s attendees will find a serious, business to business, one-stop, interactive education experience. “They’ll be able to meet seasoned professionals and consultants from a panapoly of every transaction in food — not just cooking.” He added, “We create an environment where there is a commitment for attendees to do business together beyond the value point. They don’t just ‘drop in.” The team at Food + Summit help foster an experience where the money folks and the farmers and makers can learn the foodscape vocabulary; learn to speak the same language and truly connect on the food system narrative that permeates everything today and achieve successful return on their mutual investments. This Examiner often says, “Food is a prism through which we view our entire world.”
According to Denckla, the Summit works best keeping it rather intimate. They expect approximately 500 attendees, mainly from the region and a little over half hailing from New York City boroughs. This smallish-scale benefits the attendees who can better do business with the local food networks, producers, and funding sources. And the $250 modest show cost is a truly valuable investment. Plus the Summit is working with GrowNYC to reach out and engage with local farmers, supporting partial scholarships to Eco Practicum, the school for Ecological Justice, whose co-founder and director is Eugenia Manwelyan, Food + Enterprise’s Managing Director.
“The Summit is really quite affordable especially when one considers it can cost up to $2K to attend a VC conference,” Denckla notes. Especially when one considers how the Summit is so much about access: access to movers, accelerators, and potential legal and finance partners – all in one place. There’s a lot of hand-holding going on at the Summit – in a good way. It provides nurturing, broad access to the entire food system spectrum.
“The structure of Slow Money NYC, the Summit’s presenter, is similar to Slow Food,” Denckla notes. He explained how Slow Money had in fact, been hatched at the 2007 Terra Madre sustainable network event when they observed there was no real financial element to make the sustainability efforts scaleable. Slow Money’s motto is, “Everyone is an investor in food.”
Denckla, while an attorney and investor, learned this early on – in fact, his father was the first organic farmer at their Franken, West Virginia-located homestead. “I always saw food as integral to environmental change,” he said. His business became taking his resources of capital to “give back” and managing became more about how to drive a movement and channel his passion for good.
So the next time someone asks you to whisper those three little words, just say, “Food Plus Enterprise.” After all, the Summit is a lot like love…