At Slow Money Showcase, Vermont Food Entrepreneurs Pitch Private Investors

May 13, 2015

“Slow food” used to mean nutritious meals that take hours to prepare. In the 1990s, the phrase was adopted by advocates who see traditional, small-scale agriculture as superior to industrial food production. Now comes "slow money," which links fledgling food growers and producers to local investors. 

At a recent showcase sponsored by Slow Money Vermont at the Coolidge Hotel in White River Junction, seven presenters each got five minutes and a few PowerPoint slides to pitch investors in the audience.

David Morgan wants to make artisanal malts for food and beverage producers.

“We are looking for collaborators in a variety of capacities, “ said over the whir of a projector. “I encourage you to contact me about ways in which you can become involved with Slow Hand Malting, as it evolves into an integral part of Vermont’s local food system by creating quality grain malts that reflect the terroir of our land and climate.

Morgan, who left a career in finance and accounting, needs about $200,000 to launch his start-up called Slow Hand Malting. He’s raised about half of that so far. 

Others asked for help to update a potato farm, expand a frozen yogurt business and buy equipment for a slaughterhouse. Brian Jerose wants to increase capacity for making energy from compost. He calls his Enosburg Falls company Agrilab Technologies.

“Here’s a quick example of how it works,” he said, showing photographs of the complex process. “This isn’t something that’s widely adopted yet, but more or less we take the vapor, that hot, steamy 150 degrees at times out of that pile, and drop through a vacuum called negative aeration ... into our equipment.”

Presenters asked for help to update a potato farm, expand a frozen yogurt business and buy equipment for a slaughterhouse.

A few investors started taking notes.  

Entrepreneurs say it’s tough to get conventional bank loans, so they’re knocking on smaller doors, asking modest amounts from each source. That’s called crowdfunding, and Mike Pieciak, of Vermont’s Department of Financial Regulations, explained how the state is changing the rules to make it less cumbersome.

“It really is a means and a mechanism for opening up investment to a larger group of people at a smaller dollar figure than was available before,” Pieciak said.

Last June, the state simplified the regulatory process for start-up companies to attract in-state investment, and now it’s proposing to allow small businesses to raise capital out of state as well.

"It really is a means and a mechanism for opening up investment to a larger group of people at a smaller dollar figure than was available before." - Michael Pieciak, Vermont Department of Financial Regulation

Slow money, like slow food, encourages close relationships between investors and the businesspeople they want to help, which is why events like this usually end with networking over wine and artisanal cheeses and meats.

“My name is Ron Miller,” said one of the guests, “and I’m a private investor. And I love the idea of slow money and being able to put money to work helping communities and small businesses and growing a local food system.”

Miller and every other potential funder — including a handful of non-profit venture capital funds — wore bright green stickers on their name tags, marking them as the most popular guests at the cocktail hour. In addition to these showcases, Slow Money Vermont is launching a new, secure, online matchmaking service that will allow entrepreneurs to post their business plans in hopes of attracting the capital they need. 

Disclosure: David Morgan was a temporary full-time employee of Vermont Public Radio in 2014; he is no longer affiliated with VPR.