“ Better late than never” – a wise, busy person
Slow Money NW was very busy this past year, and expects 2013 to be a major growth year. Due to this exciting craziness, our year end report comes a few weeks late. I want to keep things brief, and since it is always best to build on previous work, I want to build on September’s Quarterly Update.
As we enter our third year of operation, we see our track record attracting more attention, businesses, and funding. The highlights for this year involve innovation in microlending, launching an agricultural savings incentive program, securing new funding sources, and formalizing our approach to business assistance.
Seeds of Success
We launched our Seeds of Success savings incentive program in the last quarter. The program, implemented in conjunction with our friends at with Cascade Harvest Coalition, is part of a national effort to help beginnning farmers and ranchers grow their businesses. We received 37 applications in December, supporting the notion that this type of work is needed. We are busy right now reviewing applications and interviewing farmers. This week the Everett Herald ran the most recent article about this program.
Farmer Reserve Fund
Our Farmer Reserve Fund launched in the second quarter and received a lot of attention for its innovative approach to solving the problem of farmers needing access to microcredit. We received immediate press for this loan loss reserve fund, have held discussions with four other counties in the region about replicating the program, and have responded to calls from others around the country wanting more details. A regional CDFI wondered if we could find them $60,000 that would allow them to make $1 million in new loans. A foundation wondered if they could do the same thing but with a $1 million reserve. Great news, but the best part of our program is that from our initial investement, two farmers from Viva Farms received lines of credit to allow them to expand their businesses. Both farmers had suffered foreclosures during the mortgage crisis and were unable to get credit through normal banking channels, and are now successfully paying down their balances, and rebuilding their credit as they grow their businesses.
We have made 5 presentations about this fund with the next one being a BALLE Community Capital webinar Feb 5th.
Of note: this week the USDA announced their Microloan program. This is very exciting for all involved. We will make sure to let folks know about these funds. We will research the details of this new opportunity to make sure we are not in competition. We are particularly interested to see if they will offer lines of credit.
Angel Professional / Peer Network
We continue to have success connecting volunteer professionals to businesses needing specific assistance, usually financials and cash flow projections, business planning, legal, marketing, and presentation coaching. To date, 42 businesses have received personal assistance. As the number of businesses has grown, we have needed to formalize the process. We have the good fortune to welcome Betsy Powers and Bert Loosemore, super-volunteer and management team member respectively, who have spearheaded this effort. If you are a business professional or organization interested in assisting food and farm businesses in WA, OR, ID, and MT, please contact us.
Food Investor Network
In previous years we held one accredited investor event per year due to limited resources. This year we held three, with two in Portland. Our hope is to hold four this year. Our fourth quarter Seattle meeting had 6 businesses make pitches to 29 investors, with over $2 million of potential investments entering in to the due diligence phase. The best investor comment from that event: “It is so refreshing to see real businesses with OK presentations compared to polished presentations with shaky business plans.” In two years, with limited staff and minimal outreach, we have helped bring over $5 million in financing to eleven businesses in the Pacific Northwest, and we have all of you to thank for your interest, business submissions, investments, and support.
Strategic Market Research
Our track record and increasing expertise in the field has attracted interest from foundations and individuals seeking to use investment and market forces to transform the regional food economy. During the holidays we received funding from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation to develop a market analysis and investment plan for the regional farm-to-institution market.
SMNW has consistently heard of interest from accredited investors in a fund that allows investors to pool their resources, both time and money. A few investors have recently asked us to help them develop a managed fund concept focused on the regional food infrastructure. This conceptual fund would allow us to increase efficiencies in deal volume and due-diligence, and better manage risk which should, in turn, enhance the quality of deals and hopefully reduce or spreading out risk. The timing of this work is perfect as we can align fund research with the other market analysis research we are doing for at least one other grant project. If you are an accredited investor and would like to support this effort, or just learn more, please contact us directly.
Signups to our newsletter and visits to our website, Twitter, and Facebook pages have all seen a steady increase through the year. We are aggressively upgrading our data systems and web presence to accommodate all aspects of growth.
With all of this work comes the need to grow the organization. In the second quarter we brought on Japhet Koteen who has excelled as a Project Manager. Japhet has been focused on finalizing the Farmer Reserve Fund, developing the Seeds of Success project, researching potential fund development, and generally helping grow the organization. SMNW is sharing a Development Coordinator, Ellen Sabina, with Viva Farms and Growing Washington, which means Ellen is busy writing grants. Go, Ellen!
We are proud that we can now bring Japhet on full time. We are currently interviewing for a Business Research Intern and will be seeking a Communication Intern in the first quarter of 2013