This past weekend I had the honor as serving as a mentor to an amazing group of food entrepreneurs at the Battle Creek Business Boot Camp -- a three day intensive training providing select good food entrepreneurs the skills and resources that can help them grow their businesses. Participating entrepreneurs were provided with a toolkit of business essentials that focused on marketing, telling your story, break even analysis, understanding financial statements, solving business challenges, and more. The camp ended with a “pitch competition” that sent one business team home with a $10,000 award from the Michigan Food Fund.
The Michigan Good Food Fund, a $30 million public-private partnership loan fund, hosted the boot camp. It provides financing and business assistance to good food enterprises that benefit underserved communities across Michigan.
Our national political system is experiencing what appears to be an insufferable entropic free-fall. This chaos at the federal level of government is galvanizing states and local communities to take more responsibility for shaping their futures. That makes me hopeful. I am hopeful because I believe what I experienced at Battle Creek is an example (a microcosm if you will) of what is happening through out the country. As I reflected on the weekend during my flight back to Massachusetts, I realized that what transpired actually extends well beyond the skills building and the pitch competition.
The “pitch” that the teams of entrepreneurs made before a panel of experts on Sunday evening focused on how the $10,000 award could help them address an immediate challenge their businesses needed to overcome. It was clear that each of the six businesses could REALLY use the money. However, throughout the weekend these competing individuals helped one another refine and improve their presentations.
That’s worth repeating. The ten entrepreneurs representing six businesses competing for a much-needed pot of cash willingly and enthusiastically helped their competitors – whom they did not even know before they came together to prepare for and participate in the boot camp! There’s no question that the skilled facilitators set the stage by consciously structuring the sessions to encourage interaction among the participants, but that alone was no guarantee that would happen.
The group was diverse:
§ A family-owned business serving affordable, healthy lunch optionsusing locally sourced produce.
§ A cooperative of Hispanic farmers with a mission to provide locally grown, sustainable produce and preserve Michigan's farmland.
§ A producer of handcrafted, frozen treats utilizing locally sourced ingredients made with no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
§ A diversified, four-season farm and CSA producing vegetables, herbs, and flowers with a mission to provide fresh, naturally-grown produce at a fair price.
§ An urban farm with a goal to cultivate health and consciousness through growing and educating the community about wholesome and local food.
§ A family owned restaurant featuring authentic cuisine from Mexico using fresh, local ingredients and offering a salsa bar.
There was an almost spontaneous bonding around a sense of shared purpose (globally and locally oriented), strong community pride, and an intuitive awareness of the importance if what Meena Palaniappan, Founder and CEO of atma Connect described to me in an email as the significant yet under appreciated role of social cohesion in building better communities.
So take another look at the photograph at the top of the page. This is an inspiring reminder that competition and cooperation are not necessarily incompatible. Both have critical roles to play in creating sustainable communities. Let’s continue to demonstrate and communicate how apparent conflicting differences can be integrated into synergetic wholes that are greater than the sum of their parts. In fact, the reconciliation of “polar opposites “ often results in generating the most sustaining synergetic benefits. Creative community syntropy (order, organization and life) is the counterpoint to political entropy (decline into disorder).
By the way, congratulations to Olivia and Devon from Sunlight Gardens. I looked around when it was announced that they were the winners. Everyone was applauding and beaming from ear to ear.
Fair Food Network
Good Food Battle Creek