Entrepreneurs, investors, and restaurateurs will discuss the local food scene, opportunities for innovation and economic impact
On October 1st, the Venture Club of Indiana will revisit Food Entrepreneurship with an expanded program featuring the local innovators who are shaping the culinary economy in Central Indiana – a topic that’s only gained attention since the group first put it “on the table” at its monthly luncheon meeting last October.
The upcoming half-day program will feature Chris Baggott, who has made the transition from tech to food with Husk Foods, Tyner Pond Farms, and now ClusterTruck; Gerry Hays, founder and CEO of DinnerCall; restaurateurs Scott Wise – the namesake of the growing ‘Scotty’s’ empire – and Neal Brown (Pizzology, The Libertine and more); David King of Indiana Grown, and others.
“Indianapolis was once known as the perfect Midwestern test market for chain restaurants – but times have changed, and over the last few years our food scene has been anything but bland,” said Venture Club president Todd Saxton, an associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the IU Kelley School of Business Indianapolis, where he also serves as the Indiana Venture Faculty Fellow.
“We’ve seen a boom in unique new restaurants led by local entrepreneurs, and a number of new ventures taking advantage of the ‘farm to fork’ movement in innovative ways,” Saxton added.
New trends in what and how Americans eat are creating significant economic opportunities. For example, a recent study by Food Business News asserts that nearly a third of consumers are willing to change their shopping and dining habits to find locally-produced food, a survey backed up by an estimated $11 billion in local food sales in 2014.
The food supply chain is also evolving to meet the demands of today’s online, on-demand customer. From a modest $46 billion invested in food delivery companies in 2013, venture capitalists showered more than $600 million on the delivery space last year – and investment for 2015 is on pace to easily eclipse $1 billion, according to TechCrunch.
Baggott is working to capitalize on both of these trends: Through Tyner Pond Farms and Husk, he’s a direct-to-consumer producer while also creating a new distribution model for local food; ClusterTruck, his latest venture, connects customers with their favorite food truck-inspired dishes without having to track down their curbside locales.
“There are billion-dollar opportunities in the food sector,” noted Baggott, who combines software bona fides – most notably with ExactTarget and Compendium – with his more recent foray into food as founder of ClusterTruck. “I believe ClusterTruck is one of those opportunities, by using technology to satisfy our simultaneous demand for unlimited choice and instant gratification. And looking at the activity and investment happening across the region, I also believe Central Indiana can emerge as a food innovation hub.”
Indy’s burgeoning restaurant industry is also delivering significant economic upside. Nationally, restaurant sales and employment are outpacing the overall economy; with solid population growth and a $4 billion-a-year hospitality sector, the Indianapolis market is a welcoming one for new dining options.
“Just a few weeks ago, we held our sixth annual Dig IN festival celebrating the best of locally-grown and created Indiana cuisine,” said Neal Brown, who is a founder of the event, dating back to 2009. “Every year Dig IN has grown, as we see more creative chefs and willing investors teaming up to bring exciting new additions to our community.”
Nine of ten food service firms employ fewer than 50 people, and Saxton noted that the strong churn of people, business and ideas make the food sector a highly-entrepreneurial arena.
“Food-related businesses are a growing part of our start-up ecosystem,” he said. “We invite anyone interested in local food and beverage, funding early stage ideas, and different approaches to getting your products to market to join us on October 1st.”
The Food Entrepreneurship session will be held at the Columbia Club on Monument Circle, from 10:00am to 3:00pm on Thursday, 10/1/15; the preliminary agenda includes:
- 10-11:15: Funding Food Entrepreneurship – panel discussion
- 11:30-1:30: Luncheon Program – “Indiana and Local Foods” Chris Baggott, Gerry Hays, David King
- 1:45-3:00: Getting to the Fork: Distribution, Reaching the Market Scott Wise, Neal Brown, et al