Guest post by Bob Benenson, communications specialist for FamilyFarmed.
There are many reasons for food industry professionals and consumers alike to attend the 11th Annual Good Food Festival & Conference, presented by FamilyFarmed March 19-21 at Chicago’s UIC Forum. For food tech entrepreneurs seeking to network with investors who have proven interest in the good food movement, and for investors in search of promising food tech companies, the three-day event is the place to be.
The first day (March 19) features the Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference. This conference is already well known in the local and sustainable food community for its Financing Fair — at which selected entrepreneurs pitch their business plans to an audience of investors, financiers and lenders, and others exhibit their products and services. Businesses have received $11 million in capital over the past three years through their participation in the event.
The Financing & Innovation Conference will add a new facet to the extensive program. The schedule includes a roundtable about FamilyFarmed’s new Good Food Business Accelerator, which is providing mentoring, technical assistance, and networking opportunities to nine competitively selected entrepreneur fellows. This is followed by business-plan pitches by several of the fellows, as well as other businesses participating in the Financing Fair.
The Fair will feature 30 exhibitors. One exhibitor with an especially strong tech orientation is Chicago-based Zero Percent, which uses an online platform to connect restaurants and food retailers who have surplus food with nonprofit groups that provide food assistance to the needy.
Another food tech exhibitor is Chicago-based FoodTrace, which has created an innovative platform that facilitates business relationships, expands the supply chain for local and sustainable food and provides a means to share more traceable information with consumers. Company founder Riana Lynn is a Fellow in the Good Food Business Accelerator.
The welcome panel that will open the conference on March 19 features Marc Schulman of Eli’s Cheesecake, Howard Tullman of 1871, Cook County (Chicago) Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Jeff Malehorn, the CEO of World Business Chicago, Anne Alonzo of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service, Renee Michaels of Food, Land, Opportunity, Localizing the Chicago Foodshed, FamilyFarmed Board Chair Charlotte Flinn and FamilyFarmed Board member Jennifer Worstell. Panelists will discuss funding and investing in the good food economy with moderator Jim Slama, president of Family Farmed.
Slama also moderates the ensuing Opening Symposium, with an all-star lineup including Michael Bashaw, president of Whole Foods Market’s Midwest division, Melody Meyer of UNFI (the nation’s largest independent distributor of sustainably produced food and a partner in the Good Food Business Accelerator), Jim Murphy of Chicago’s Local Foods, Galen Miller of Indiana’s Miller Poultry and Marianne Markowitz of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
After the fair, there will be panels including; “Building a Good Food Brand” (Rick Bayless of the Frontera Mexican restaurant group and Manny Valdes of Frontera packaged foods are panelists), “Good Food Business Success Stories” (learn about Koval Distillery, FarmedHere, Argo Tea, and Lifeway Kefir) and “Good Food is a Good Investment.”
The event continues on Friday, March 20 with Trade Day, which includes the nation’s oldest and biggest trade show focused on local and sustainable food. Trade Day also includes tracks on the food trade, school food, food policy and producers. Localicious, one of Chicago’s best annual food and drink tasting event, takes place on Friday night. And the entire event concludes with the Good Food Festival, the big public celebration of the fast-growing good food movement on Saturday, March 21.
Bob Benenson is communications specialist for FamilyFarmed and managing editor of its Good Food on Every Table website. A longtime participant in the Good Food movement in particular, he moved into advocacy after relocating to Chicago in 2011 from Washington, D.C., where he had spent 30 years as a political journalist.