Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the Food Investing Conference, an annual event produced by FundingPost.com, an organization whose goal is to introduce entrepreneurs to Angels and Venture Capitalists. Simply put, this conference was a great example of how to facilitate these introductions.
Being an entrepreneur in the food space myself, I know all too well how hard it is to meet the right investors. I have attended several conferences on behalf of our company dcuisine.com, and most of them were geared to the technology space. I have wasted many hours talking to partners at venture capital funds only to hear “we only do tech”, or “we don’t do food.” The fact that this conference was targeted to me was a refreshing change.
The conference’s size was just about right, approximately 70 entrepreneurs and 30 investors. It was all held in one large room that had seating in the center, panelists in the front, and exhibitor booths set up around the perimeter. This created a sort of cozy environment, where nobody had to hustle from one time slotted event to another. Everybody knew they were eventually going to get a chance to meet each other by the end of the day, which removed a lot of the customary conference anxiety. There were also liberal amounts of networking sessions in between the panel discussions, which was ideal.
The morning started off with breakfast and a Pitch Workshop lead by FundingPost’s founder Joe Rubin. At first I thought it was a little basic, until people got up and gave their elevator pitches. A lot of the entrepreneurs greatly benefitted from the advice given by Joe and his partners, and we were able to see them improve over the course of the day. Dave Goodman, Founder of Coco Jack and famous for his appearance on Shark Tank, stole the show, breaking whole coconuts on a chair with his specialty coconut hammer!
The first panel, Early-Stage Food Product and Food-Tech Investing, primarily focused on what early stage investors look for in general. The panel was made up of two accelerators, three angels and a VC, so we got to learn from a nice cross section about their investment criteria. Key takeaways for an entrepreneur: Don’t have a predetermined valuation in your mind before meeting potential investors, keep term sheets simple, and they all hate “Lifestyle” companies. They would prefer a failure they can write off than a company that just stays alive.
The second panel, Growing Your Food Product or Food Tech Business, focused more on how to position your company for its next capital raise. This conversation was much more philosophical, with the panelists discussing their operating preferences. Interestingly enough, the panelists all agreed on having “brands you can believe in”.
The third panel, Angels in the Food Space, focused on how Angels and VC’s like to invest and what they expect in return (exit opportunities). Key takeaway: it is never too early to think about your exit strategy. If you have a particular eventual buyer in mind, that could greatly influence key decisions you make along the way. My favorite words of advice were to be wary of “Fake Angels”, and as entrepreneurs we should be asking: “What was your last investment and how many deals have you done in the last twelve months?” before wasting any of our time!
By the end of the productive day, I had gotten the opportunity to meet almost every panelist and exhibitor at the conference. All the exhibitors I spoke to agree it was a really great opportunity to network, and a surprisingly high percentage of the people stayed for drinks afterwards, which is always a good sign!
Image credit: CC by Windell Oskay