Good Food Accelerator| September 12, 2018

Mentors, Businesses Both Gain From Good Food Accelerator

By Bob Benenson, FamilyFarmed

One of the biggest benefits of being selected for FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Accelerator (GFA)  is access to industry-leading mentors and supermentors. The experience and guidance provided by these mentors — which often continues long after the six-month intensive program concludes — is cited by Accelerator graduates as crucial to their successes in scaling up their businesses and avoiding damaging pitfalls.

Yet the mentors also benefit from these relationships, as was made clear by a panel of mentors at the Good Food Accelerator’s Application Celebration. This event was held September 6 at the 1871 Chicago business incubator, home to the Accelerator’s curriculum sessions, and it was aimed at persuading fence-sitting entrepreneurs to apply for GFA’s fifth cohort by the deadline: tomorrow (September 13) at 11:59 p.m. central time.

“It’s very gratifying,” said Bob Dekker, co-founder and managing director of Insight Advisory Partners. “I’ve met some people who I consider lifelong friends, and I’ve gotten closer to people who I knew outside, we knew each other briefly outside this, but we’ve become close friends and acquaintances since we got here. Just a great network of people.”

Dekker was joined on the panel by moderator Bob Gillespie, the Accelerator’s financing and innovation strategic consultant; Shelby Parchman, the Accelerator’s growth and advancement strategic consultant; and Michael Schopin of Zenfinity Capital, who has been a mentor since the program launched in 2014. Schopin also highlighted the rewards of mentorship, focused on helping entrepreneurs avoid avoidable mistakes.

Good Food Accelerator

The Mentors panel at FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Accelerator Application Celebration September 6 included (from left): moderator Bob Gillespie, the Accelerator’s financing and innovation strategist; Shelby Parchman, the Accelerator’s growth and advancement strategist; Michael Schopin of Zenfinity Capital; and Bob Dekker of Insight Advisory Partners. Photo: Bob Benenson/FamilyFarmed


“What frustrates me with smaller businesses I meet along the way is when they fail for reasons that are preventable,” Schopin said. “As much as this Accelerator helps you succeed, it also helps you avoid the things that are preventable. That makes me feel good. We’re helping people avoid failure and enhancing their ability to succeed.”

Schopin encouraged entrepreneurs to apply for the Accelerator — as long as they have the commitment to pursue a six-month intensive program that includes a full-day curriculum held at 1871 on Mondays. “You have to commit the time. If you’re wishy washy about whether you’re going to have the time to do this, ask yourself that hard question, because that’s what the program requires,” Schopin said.

That kind of commitment can have big benefits, Schopin emphasized: “You should go into it willing to test every assumption you have. Nothing is sacred. If you use that, ask the right questions, utilize all of the resources and put in the time, you’re going to leave with a business that’s much better than when you started. That’s what the program’s for.”

Jenny Yang of Jenny’s Tofu/Phoenix Bean shares a light moment with Chelsea Callahan Huson, programs manager for the Good Food Accelerator. Yang was a member of the first Accelerator cohort (2014-15), and strong growth since is enabling her to increase her production capacity five-fold. Photo: Bob Benenson/FamilyFarmed


Flexibility and willingness to accept advice are also integral to a successful Accelerator experience. “I think the ones who are really frustrating are the ones who through inexperience or stubbornness, they’re unwilling to listen and they’re unwilling to try to push their idea forward…,” Gillespie said. “What I find most challenging are Fellows who are so stuck in their idea that they can’t turn it into a company.”

On the upside, Schopin cited Mark Muller of “ready to BRANDS,” an April 2018 Accelerator graduate, as a role model of open-mindedness. When his Accelerator cohort launched last November, Muller’s company was called Humblearth and its organic, all-natural nausea relief product was targeted to the narrow niche of pregnant women suffering from morning sickness (he developed the product after his wife developed a rare and severe form of that ailment). By the end of the cohort, the name was changed to “ready to BRANDS” and the product was marketed to a broad spectrum of nausea-relief uses.

These changes helped Muller win the business Pitch Slam at FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference on June 19, which won him a prize package of cash and in-kind consulting services valued at $15,000.

Good Food Accelerator

Here, a Chicago-based company and a 2017 Accelerator graduate, produces dips and dressings in which local ingredients shine. The company has grown rapidly since its Accelerator participation. Photo: Bob Benenson/FamilyFarmed


Schopin described his first game-changing meeting with Muller. “I went in with the mindset that this is going to be an utter disaster because I just didn’t believe in it. Then he started talking about his vision and the values and direction… Over the next 45 minutes, he took probably about a 150-degree different direction for the business,” Schopin said.

Parchman explained that he got into entrepreneur development after selling a successful laboratory supply business (he has college degrees in molecular biology and chemistry), and realizing there were few resources at the time for entrepreneurs looking for help to find their way.

Good Food Accelerator

TeaSquares, a 2017 Good Food Accelerator graduate, produces delicious, all-natural snacks that are infused with tea to provide a caffeine boost. Based on Chicago’s South Side, the company has the social mission of providing young people from underserved communities with business skills training. Photo: Bob Benenson/FamilyFarmed


In addition to his role as a Good Food Accelerator consultant, Parchman is managing director of InUrban Strategies LLC, which has a particular emphasis on promoting entrepreneurship and economic development in underserved urban communities. “It’s good to see people who think they don’t even have the opportunity to be successful in business to now see them selling products in Mariano’s and Whole Foods and gaining nationwide distribution. It’s just wonderful,” he said.

Parchman added, in words that can be shared by most Good Food Accelerator mentors, “I live and breathe helping people start small businesses.”

If you are a Good Food entrepreneur still deciding whether to apply for the fifth cohort of the Good Food Accelerator, we hope these mentors’ insights help seal the deal. Don’t delay: The deadline is tomorrow (Thursday, September 13) at 11:59 p.m.


Conor McInerney of Departure Snacks and Debbie Wood of No Denial Foods are 2018 Good Food Accelerator graduates. Departure Snacks are made with almonds seasoned with spices from different international cultures. Wood, who has diabetes and celiac disease, created No Denial’s delicious treats with no gluten and low glycemic levels. Photo: Bob Benenson/FamilyFarmed


Good Food Accelerator


Bob Benenson


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