Editor's Plate / Economic Development / Business Strategies

Editor’s Plate: Every Big Company Starts Out Small

10 entrepreneurs are chosen for an accelerator program in Wisconsin, breathing new life into the food and beverage industry.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

In September I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of emerging food and beverage companies. The occasion was “Building Your Business: Making Food Our Future,” a one-day conference staged by Food and Beverage (FaB) Wisconsin, a statewide economic development effort to promote the food industry in the Badger State.

While the conference covered a number of subjects, the focal point of the day was the introduction of 10 companies that made up the second annual accelerator class. Once chosen from a bunch of applicants, these startups get nine months of education, coaching and networking, culminating in a pitch and $10,000 cash award to put them on the path to sustainable growth.

You could feel the energy in the room and see the anticipation in their faces as they were introduced. With names like Funky Fresh Spring Rolls and Milwaukee Pretzel Co., some of them may well succeed; some unfortunately will fail; but all are driving innovation and excitement in the business we all love.

Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup previously spoke to the general FaB group, and James Snee of Hormel Foods is coming up. You just knew these little companies thought they would be a Campbell or Hormel one day.

Crazy? Maybe. But a while back, there was this guy selling cheese out of his wagon in Chicago. Another guy was driving truck loads of chickens to different cities to sell them. Some pharmacist concocted a drink for his soda fountain. You probably guessed -- those are the founding stories of Kraft, Tyson and Coca-Cola. And while those are ancient history, it's still happening today.

In the news of the past month we learned Angie's Artisan Treats, maker of Angie's Boomchickapop popcorn, was bought by Conagra. Angie's was on our June 2014 cover as one of our R&D Teams of the Year, as well as a member of our Kick-Ass Women in Food list. Angie and Dan Bastian started popping corn in their Mankato, Minn., garage in 2001 and selling it at state fairs and Minnesota Vikings training camp, initially as a way to pay for their kids' college expenses. Now it seems their snack is in every grocery store I see in the Chicago area, as well as Walgreen's and CVS stores.

I get to see Angie every February at Natural Products Expo West. Just after the sale (an investment group already owned part of her company), I asked her how it felt to be fully bought out and what advice she had for similar startups.

“It takes a lot of hard work to build a company," she said. "It was incredibly important to Dan and I that we build a solid business with a relevant product and brand. I’m proud of what our team has accomplished, and our partnerships with Sherbrooke Capital and TPG Growth were great. Now, we’re ready to take the next step. It feels a little like sending a kid off to college.

"Good luck to all you entrepreneurs out there," she says. "The world needs you.”