During this week’s Community Capital webinar, Marco Vangelisti and Jill Epner of Slow Money Northern California gave listeners advice on how to create their own Entrepreneur Showcase. In case you missed it, here’s a quick recap.
Slow Money Northern California became an official Slow Money chapter in 2011. Since then they have created an ingenious way for local, sustainable entrepreneurs to meet with potential investors while having fun and eating delicious food. The goal is to create a space where entrepreneurs, investors, food activists and community members can gather to network. At first, their idea wasn’t hitting the mark, but with some changes in their approach and a little revamping, they quickly realized they were on the right path.
Using Silicon Valley’s tech-centered “pitchfests” as a model, Slow Money Northern California created their own event called Farm Fest. The first one took place almost a year ago, in February 2012, and while a good time was had by all, the entrepreneurs weren’t able to amass any funding.
Slow Money Northern California went about some fine-tuning, putting more emphasis on the presenters’ prep work, creating more space for networking between investors and entrepreneurs, and identifying “champion” (lead) investors. The results were impressive. Attendees had fun on farm tours, ate delicious, healthy food and six entrepreneurs were funded within six months!
The main difference between Farm Fest and a bigger, tech-centric “pitchfest” is the type of investors. Slow Money Northern California isn’t looking for millionaire venture capitalists it’s on the hunt for ordinary folks who might have a few extra bucks to invest in mutual funds, a 401k or, who knows… a co-op farm? The smallest investment level is $1,000 but the sky is the limit and all of the businesses are local and sustainable ventures.
So how does one replicate the entrepreneurial showcase? For starters, you need a lot of volunteers to run the event and donate and cook food. Secondly, because of SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) regulations, the main focus of the event cannot be on investors giving money to entrepreneurs. Don’t worry, all this means is that when presenters are making their “ask” they refrain from making specific monetary requests. As long as you make sure the showcase is first and foremost about food and fun - and then a space for investors and entrepreneurs to network, no lines will be crossed. That said, Marco and Jill mentioned that consulting a lawyer could be helpful to make sure you are organizing the showcase within SEC regulations.
Most of all, the Slow Money Northern California entrepreneurial showcases are about building relationships, community and networking. Getting a showcase up and running takes a lot of hard work, but is worth the effort.