From February 27 to March 1, 600+ entrepreneurs, farmers, investors and consultants gathered at Industry City in Brooklyn, NY to collaborate and explore innovative ways to finance sustainable, local food systems at the first annual Food + Enterprise.
The jam-packed weekend featured mentor sessions, workshops, panels and discussions with food luminaries like Judy Wicks and Woody Tasch and culminated in the Pitch Competition on Sunday, March 1. The seven winning food startups launched crowdfunding campaigns on Barnraiser to raise funding to take their businesses to the next level. Five of them successfully met their funding goals.
The 3 day event was a complete whirl wind and was constantly buzzing with passionate, inspiring good food conversations. To debrief and get an inside perspective on the Food + Enterprise, we caught up with partnerships director Erica Dorn. “What sustains the conference are the relationships that are created and developed afterwards,” Erica tells us. “If this many amazing people are working at the same issue, then certainly positive change in our food system is a reality–and together we are all co-creating it,” she says.
Learn more about Erica’s event highlights, takeaways and advice for how attendees can keep post conference momentum going in the Q&A below.
Our interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Erica Dorn: Food+Enterprise 2015 was presented on a much larger scale than in previous conference years. Originally hosted under the auspices of the fabulous Food Book Fair, Food+Enterprise expanded into a full three-day event beginning with the popular entrepreneurship clinic and culminating in a pitch competition. See 2015 photos here.
We like to say that Food+Enterprise grew up in 2015 – it was three times the size (600+ attendees), substance (Key partners like Etsy and Baldor and incredible speakers like Woody Tasch and Judy Wicks), and impact (business funded through Barnraiser and Kiva Zip and much more).
What sustains the conference are the relationships that are created and developed afterwards. We can’t wait to hear from this growing community over the coming months to see what we can co-create in 2016!
ED: The beauty is that there is not just one simple thing that can be done. In fact quite the opposite, to foster community we learn to embrace the complexity of human relationships and systems and do the hard work and connect ongoingly. Fostering community to finance a better food system is a harmonious effort. For those that attended Food+Enterprise, how have you continued to move the conversation? What linkages need to be built, sustained, and transformed?
ED: State of the Soil, the topic of Woody Tasch’s speech, was profound because it deeply resonated with not just one group but all of the stakeholders at Food+Enterprise. Woody shared a F. Scott Fitzgerald quote that has stuck with me: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function” As a part of a community with a big task at hand to build a more sustainable north east food shed, hearing from Woody certainly gave me hope in our ability to not just function but also to transform. I continue to look to examples set by leaders like Judy Wicks to define the movement and question how do we deepen and scale.
ED: The amount of connections made at F+E are almost unquantifiable. The best advice I can give is to keep connecting. Organize your own version of a Jeffersonian-style dinner with seven other contacts you made at F+E. Schedule a lunch every other week with someone to share ideas and collaborate. Connect on! And continue to attend events like those hosted through Slow Money NYC, Foodstand, and Food+Tech Connect and invest in our food system through Kivazip.org and Barnraiser.
ED: Wow, tough question. I’m going to give two.
Food+Enterprise brought together an amazing band of partners who were essential in bringing the event to life. As a thank you for the contribution of these key collaborators we hosted a Partner + Funder lunch within the conference. The lunch was in a beautiful setting within Industry City and we curated the tables to design a new interaction between diverse stakeholder such as Kiva + Baldor and Fare Resources + National Young Farmers Coalition. For lunch we enjoyed a delicious pairing of Bonny Doon wines by Randall Grahm with local fare by Ben Grossman of Peaches, Marieta, and Smoke Joint. To continue the theme of pairing we held discussions at each table about business pairings that were fermenting transformation in the food system. It was powerful to see these connections being made.
However the rubber doesn’t hit the road until you have the most key of stakeholder doing what they do best. Food+Enterprise closed beautifully on Sunday with a “Meetspace” that featured over a dozen of New York City’s finest artisan food producers including Bien Cuit, Radical Farm, Pie Corps, and many many more. As the snow blanketed the industrial complex at Industry City, I left the conference with a wonderful sense of peace knowing that if this many amazing people are working at the same issue, then certainly positive change in our food system is a reality–and together we are all co-creating it.