Tell us about FarmRaiser.
FarmRaiser is reinventing the product fundraising industry by connecting student-led fundraisers to local farmers and food artisans. We use technology and community organizing to keep 90% of every purchase/contribution in the local community. Launched in May 2013 in Michigan, we validated our model through 10 demo campaigns at a cross-section of schools there.
We have big plans for Seattle and Washington State in 2014.
What are your plans for Seattle?
We’re starting now with a half-dozen demonstration campaigns here in King County, with an eventual goal of engaging 20,000 students in 300 campaigns over the next few years. To accomplish this, we’ll shortly be announcing an exciting new partnership with a Seattle non-profit that’s leading the way in ‘re-localization’ of food and seeking operating capital from the Seattle investment community. To give you a sense of scale and impact, we know from our past successful campaigns that the engagement of 20,000 students can generate $5 million in sales with over 90% of the money staying in the community.
As a social entrepreneur, what system or behavior are you trying to change?
As a parent of two veteran school-aged lobbyists, I know that kids can have a great influence over everything that happens in a household. What gets me really excited is energized students selling products to their family, friends and neighbors by talking about health and the economic benefits of eating fresh and local. FarmRaiser can be the starting block for significant changes in how and what families choose to eat and as an added benefit we can finally be rid of the candy, cookie dough and highly processed foods kids sell now.
Farmraiser also provides farmers and food entrepreneurs with direct access to their customers and helps grow their customer base, all while supporting the growth of the regional value chain.
The inspiration for FarmRaiser came from my nine-year-old son who observed, after selling $400 worth of junk food around our neighborhood for his school, that our family would never eat what he was selling.
For me personally, the business model is a mash-up of my passions and professional experiences in education, national service, disruptive technology and farming. I also wanted my career and life’s work to be something my wife and young children could be involved with. We launched FarmRaiser from our dining room, so my kids have been involved with everything from picking our name to polishing apples for our first sale to helping select student prize incentives.
How has your thinking changed since starting the business?
We launched FarmRaiser as a company dedicated to disrupting and consolidating the $6 billion school product fundraising industry with a healthy alternative. We now see ourselves as a movement and a platform for anyone that wants to build a sustainable local fundraising effort.
What have you learned about business financing through seeking funds for your business?
First, there is no shortage of available money. But it is important to know what you want in a funder. We are looking for patient capital that understands that this is a long play and is excited about the social benefit. We have spoken to traditional venture capitalists and they are not a good fit for what we are doing. Our strategy is to first focus on high-net-worth individuals that want to partner with us long term.
Who or what has been influential in your approach?
As an anthropologist I think a lot about social capital—when schools ask supporters to buy products they don’t want they spend large amounts of social capital in return for relatively meager amounts of financial capital. Our entire model is dedicated to building both social and financial capital in a sustainable manner. We consider ourselves a technology-enabled company, so I pay careful attention to how others use technology to reinvent categories, like UBER. And while I truly lament what Amazon has meant for the local bookseller, I’m a serious student of how they approach new business development and fulfillment and their lack of focus on product margins.
What advice do you have for other food system entrepreneurs?
I think it’s a great time to be in the ag and food system sectors—investment money is becoming more available for those with the right product and most importantly the right story. Our most successful partners—the folks that supply products for our causes — provide products that are what I would call authentic. They are high quality, lovingly made or grown and intrinsically part of the entrepreneur’s personal narrative. Customers who support local causes through our platform want to know these stories—they become part of why they are giving to the cause.
Do you have anything to ask of our readers?
Contact me at email@example.com if you have a product students would like to sell or you would like to do a fundraiser in your school.