Guest Post by Natasha Chatlein
On Saturday, January 10, Local Food Lab held their third Food Startup Bootcamp, this time in collaboration with NOST Silicon Valley at the Dutch Consulate General in San Francisco. Local Food Lab is a Palo Alto-based startup academy and online community (2,500 members and counting) which focuses on local, sustainable food and agriculture startups on a mission to create a healthier food system. This may sound nebulous, until you actually scratch the surface to quickly discover that this is not a bleeding heart operation: Local Food Lab is all about helping entrepreneurs craft a path to profitable, scalable companies, that do not rely on subsidies, while banking sustainability into all aspects of the business.
Krysia Zajonc, founder and CEO of Local Food Lab and recently named Forbes’ “2015 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneurs” brought an energetic, tech-fueled mix to this one-day intensive academy for food entrepreneurs. “Tech” is exactly what sets the Food Startup Bootcamp apart: having worked at Facebook as employee #17 in its heydays as a true startup allowed her to experience firsthand the wealth of resources available to tech companies not easily available to food companies, such as bootcamps, workshops, expert advisors, and not to forget, money.
The bootcamp kicked off with a welcome, introduction and overview of the day’s agenda from Krysia. But this would not be a collaboration with the NOST without a Dutch perspective. Before we delved into the agenda, Wilbert van de Kamp from the Dutch Youth Food Movement (YFM) beamed in live via Skype to give an overview of the budding new food ecosystem that is up and coming in the Netherlands. YFM’s philosophy is based on good, clean, and fair food: good, as in food that actually tastes good and is prepared well, garnering respect for said food; clean, as in food that’s grown sustainably without harmful inputs and with humane treatment of animals; fair, as in fair and livable compensation for food producers.
The YFM also has a bootcamp, the YFM Academy, a six-month interactive curriculum that increases the knowledge of young professionals on how to create a sustainable food system. Twenty-five lucky participants are chosen every year to take part in the Academy.
After the YFM presentation, Krysia asked each participant to introduce themselves. It was quite interesting to see the makeup of the room: Out of 35 participants,the vast majority (30) were of the female persuasion. Their backgrounds were also intriguing: nutritionist, doctor, urban farmer, professional ballerina, sous chef, food policy advocate, kale chip startup, raw food chef, pastry chef, food scientist, in short, a veritable smorgasbord of new connections and potential partners for NOST and the Consulate General.
The main goal for the day was for each startup to walk away with a completed 12-step business plan. The point of the business plan was not to create a huge 30-page document which no one would read anyways; rather, it would serve as a pitch deck of the kind of company the entrepreneurs were trying to create in 12 very concrete and easy to formulate statements, much as what we are familiar with in the tech industry. The business plan would force the participants to take a hard look at things like how to make money, who their target market will be, what problem they are solving and allow them to get clear about what they are seeking (money, partners, clients or a combination of all three).
Krysia’s hands-on approach showed throughout the bootcamp. The participants were given handouts with handy templates for formulating their business plans, and case studies offering an insider’s perspective on 3 notable local and sustainable food companies. Rather than taking these home to work on later, there were several moments in class dedicated to actually working on these and each startup presenting their outcomes. During the customer discovery part of the course, the startups actually had to talk to at least three other people. Additionally, Krysia outlined easy to follow formulas for determining the startups’ mission, positioning, and supply chain and infused the course with various quotes and examples of notable investors and entrepreneurs (tech household names such as Steve Blank, Ben Horowitz, Dave McClure and the like). The divide between tech and food in Silicon Valley was illustrated by the fact that a lot of the participants did not know who a lot of these were. Which goes to show that a lot of tech lives in a very self-contained bubble. But I digress.
A very nice added bonus of participation in the bootcamp is the 3 months free access to LivePlan. LivePlan is an online software that simplifies business planning, budgeting, forecasting, and performance tracking for small businesses and startups in an easy to comprehend dashboard overview. To get the bootcamp participants familiarized with it, Krysia had everyone actually log into their LivePlan account and walked them step by step through the process.
Before we knew it, it was the end of the bootcamp. The icing on the cake was a star panel of local food entrepreneurs, expertly moderated by Local Food Lab’s VP of Marketing Ellie Wilson. Feastly, LolaBee’s Harvest, Naturebox and Buyer’s Best Friend gave the participating entrepreneurs valuable insights into their roller coaster experiences in starting their own sustainable and local food businesses.
NOST is proud that Local Food Lab chose to partner with us on the San Francisco edition of the Food Startup Bootcamp and we look forward to partnering again in the future as we develop the food entrepreneurship relationships between the Netherlands and California. This #FoodStartupBootcamp was the third in a series of bootcamps (the previous two were in New York and Washington, D.C.). The next bootcamp will take place on February 7th, in Los Angeles, CA. Other bootcamps are planned for Austin, Houston, Seattle, Boston, Chicago and Detroit (dates). NOST will also work on getting a bootcamp in the Netherlands later this year.