Who’s Watching out for Food’s Female Entrepreneurs?

July 8, 2022
Jenn Palmer, CEO of eCapital ABL, talks about the hurdles women experience when trying to launch or grow a food business, with special attention paid to women’s access to capital.

Today we turn our attention to Jenn Palmer, CEO of eCapital ABL. At eCapital, Jenn leads an organization that specializes in financing food and beverage companies. At the helm since January of 2020, we talk about how Jen’s career path helped her see the value of diversity—both among eCapital’s portfolio and within her teams. And speaking of portfolios, Jenn explains how her team helped grow eCapital’s portfolio 70%...during a pandemic.

In this episode, we talk about the hurdles women experience when trying to launch or grow a food business, with special attention paid to women’s access – or lack thereof—to capital. We also address how to make financing more equitable as well as HOW—and WHY—both men and women can better support women-owned business.


Erin Hallstrom: Jenn, welcome to the Food For Thought podcast, excited to have you on and excited to talk to you. So let's dive right in. You're the CEO of eCapital ABL. Can you tell me a bit more about eCapital ABL and what kinds of companies do you work with?

Jenn Palmer: We are a finance partner for high growth companies. We provide lines of credit against assets on a company's balance sheet, such as accounts receivable, inventory, e-commerce sales, even intellectual property and equipment. We specialize in food and beverage, primarily, CPG companies and natural products.

We have a deep experience, and a really unique understanding of clients’ needs in that space. Each client gets a very custom tailored solution that's right for their business, not only for today, but for tomorrow. Our lines of credit are really helping growing companies continue to grow at the speed at which they want to grow.

Erin: A woman leading a finance company, especially in the food and beverage wellness space is not something new hear about very often. Have you always been a CEO?

Women in the Workplace Series

Today’s episode is a continuation of our Women in the Workplace series. Earlier this year we talked with women from GODIVA, Hot Bread Kitchen, and the Females in Food program about how each company is helping to empower women throughout the food and beverage industry. 

Jenn: I worked my way up from a very unlikely start. I have a law degree and between my law degree and my analytical skills, those really compliment my financial expertise and those of the team. My background's a little bit different than probably what you would expect. I actually started out in fashion, art and art history. When I was in college, I had a triple major and I had every intention of going to Europe and getting my PhD. And then 9/11 happened and I decided to stay close to home in New York. And I ended up going to law school there in New York.

I knew I wanted to be an in-house attorney, so then it was just a matter of finding the right fit. So I joined Gerber Finance, pretty shortly after graduating from law school. Gerber Finance, by the way, just rebranded a few weeks ago to eCapital Asset Based Lending. If I use the term incorrectly, I don't mean to confuse you.

When I joined Gerber, it was very different than what I thought I'd be doing. But once I started, ended at, like once I started meeting the people there and talking to the team, I immediately fell in love with the culture and the company's passion and commitment to entrepreneurs who were trying to grow their business. Just a very unique perspective that the company had on helping high growth companies. And it's been 16 years and I'm still as enthusiastic about my job as I was the day that I got there.

Erin: And wow, a tripled major, I think I heard that correctly. I think it's fantastic. And I love hearing about the steps people take in their careers. I love that it wasn't like I got an MBA and went straight to CEO. It also sounds like having that kind of path gave you such a wide breadth of expertise in so many other things, not just going to business school and that's the only thing you've ever done. Not hating on the MBAs, but…

Jenn: I was just gonna say, I couldn't agree with you more. I think that having that diverse background not only helped me bring a unique perspective to the team, but I think it just really helped grow the company and better service our clients because our clients didn't go to that CEO school or get their MBA all the time either. Our portfolio represents a really diverse group of individuals and appropriately, so should our team. And it does today. Our founder really believes in diversity as do I. And so we've always had a very diverse team and that really has helped us connect with our clients in a very meaningful way.

And I think that's really what has set us apart from others. We always say we march the beat of our own drum, and that's because we embrace the diversity that we have in our team and our unique perspectives. And I'll be the first to say, there should never be five Jennifer Palmers in this company. Just like there shouldn't be five of anyone else because that doesn't make us unique and that doesn't help us all bring out our best selves and our diverse background. And we all have strengths and weaknesses and they play off each other really nicely because we have that diverse team.

Erin: Talk to me a bit about some of the initiatives you've undertaken since taking the helm at eCapital.

Jenn: I became the president back in 2013, I took over the role as CEO in January, 2020; just two months before the whole world changed. We were actually feeling the effect of the pandemic as early as February 2nd. I just could not believe the timing. It's been a challenging time in many respects, but it's been very rewarding and very educational as well for me personally. Since seeking over the helm, I have grown the portfolio with the help of my amazing team, more than 70%.

We also started a natural products division. So a division that just focuses on the natural product space. We also started a division that just focuses on larger deals.

So credits more than $15 million, usually, in that $20 to $30 million space. That's something we had never done before. And the only reason that we were able to do these kinds of things were because we maintained a really strong company culture during this time, which was not easy because our offices are in New York and San Francisco, so both epicenters of the pandemic in the early days.

But we really have an amazing team who all banded together and made sure that that company culture thrive. And during that time, we did things for each other personally and families and most importantly, for our clients. We pivoted, we supported clients in new ways. For example, we used to go and visit our clients every four to six weeks face-to-face. And obviously travel was no longer allowed at that time. So instead we were Zooming once every week or two weeks, and just trying to stay connected with our clients in different ways. We obviously used technology like so many others, but we really leaned in even further into the power of partnership. And we helped our clients navigate various situations, working very closely with them hand in hand, making sure we understood regularly what was going on in their business. If they had some sort of curve ball thrown at them, they didn't feel alone. By having a strong relationship with our clients, we were able to be there for them both in good days and bad days because we understood their business and most importantly, because we had the trust, we had a solid relationship with our clients.

Erin: In researching for this episode, I noticed it looks like you're extremely passionate about supporting women. Talk to me more about why this is so important from supporting women-owned businesses to helping provide career paths for women?

Jenn: I'm so glad that you asked me about this. I will be the first to tell you that I'm so proud of what our own team looks like. Our team is more than 55% female-led. We have women at the top who are decision makers, which is very important to helping women entrepreneurs. We are all incredibly dedicated, both men and women on our team, to helping women understand debt and finance.

Women tend to be more typically risk averse. They're afraid of debt. They've grown up being taught that debt is bad, and that stays with them. That's not always true, obviously. I mean, you need debt in a business in order to scale, but a lot of times it's still in women, in the back of their head and they shy away from debt.

So myself and my team, we have this desire to focus on women-owned businesses, many of whom are in the food and beverage space, many of whom are in the natural product space, because we wanna help educate them. We want them to understand the benefits of debt, and how it can help them scale their business, and how debt, oftentimes, is so much more economical than equity.

You don't have to give up equity to grow your business. Debt is a really wonderful opportunity to do so while retaining ownership, and it's a long game. Women don't typically have access to that same kind of capital. So really trying to make the tables more equitable, trying to ensure that women have that same access to financing and capital that men do. You know, I just try to pay it forward through mentorship. These types of conversations are in ensuring that women owners have access to funds.

I just feel that I have to give it back. I've been very fortunate. I've had some really wonderful men stand behind me and help me through my career, and that's what I wanna do for others. Just not only my team, but also for our portfolio. Which, by the way, I'm so proud to say is more than 44% women-led, women owned right now, and we are committed to making this 51%. So I would, by the end of the year, like to have our portfolio more than 51% women-owned, women-led. Once we achieve that, then I'll feel like then we're really starting to make a meaningful difference.

Erin: I'm sure there might be people listening who are wondering, why should we focus or only focus on financing women's companies? What is your response to those who question why?

Jenn: I wouldn't say that we should only focus on financing women's companies, but I certainly would say that we need to increase our focus on it. The deck is stacked against women when it comes to financing. There's no question about that. Sixty-six percent of women entrepreneurs report difficulty in obtaining financing when they need it. Again, studies show that women tend to be more risk averse.

We need to make a conscious effort to help women, to encourage women, to look for capital, to go after the financing that they need. Women typically don't look for financing as often as men do, they don't ask for as much as men do. And so the return rates are not there. They're not as successful in the process.

Again, I think it goes back to educating women on the benefits of debt versus equity and us all doing our part to help women. I mean, we all know women are primarily the consumers in households, and there are so many wonderful female entrepreneurs out there who don't have access to capital, and that's because not enough people are focusing on them.

I think that both women and men who are in power need to help focus on women, helping them get increased financing, helping them access capital. It doesn't need to be in lieu of helping men, because, you know, it just doesn't need to be a zero-sum game. We can do both, but we need to increase our attention to female entrepreneurs.

Erin: What are your thoughts on how we can make financing more equitable?

Jenn: How can we make it more equitable? It's a great question. I think that industry organizations and peer-to-peer introductions are key in this area. I think the business community needs to commit to mentor, support, and fund more women-inspired companies. And I think we need more women in decision making roles, in lenders and both on the private equity side of it, and in financial institutions.

Much of the financing world is still run by men, and they fund women-led companies less often, and women know this. It's again, statistically true. Men often don't understand necessarily the products, the business, or the services that female entrepreneurs are backing. If you put more females into the decision making roles, I think that the stats will change immediately.

Erin: How can both men and women better support women-owned businesses?

Jenn: I have a few really incredible men who have helped me throughout my career, and this was unique and it shouldn't be. Men can mentor and advocate for women in the industry network just like women should be doing. I think that we need to support women who are rising to leadership positions. And of course, you know, this comes very early on in careers. Females who are at the age of thinking about family planning, I think that this support and these conversations with women need to happen early.

You know, again, it was a strong male founder who gave me the chance and believed in my abilities, and that completely changed my career trajectory. After I got married, we sat down and we had a conversation about my plans, and I made it very clear that I had every intention of becoming a mom. In fact, I'm a mom to four girls. This person helped me find a balance for able to have both worlds. He was an advocate for me, and ensured that I was able to have the life that I wanted to live. And thank God for that, because otherwise I would've had to make a choice.

Looking back, I'm not sure what that choice would be, and women should not have to make those kinds of choices. So I think that aside from mentorship, we need to advocate for women to be on-board, not only of companies, but of our industry organizations, so they can talk to men in a position of power, excuse me, until men will listen and understand the importance of helping women.

Men can start doing what women have done in business throughout their careers. They can walk into a senior leadership or a partnership meeting and count the women in the room. And if there are none or there's too few, start asking questions, start finding out why, and open the door wide for women to get in it. Men can help women just as much as women can help women.

Erin: Well, Jen, you gave both myself, and I hope all of our listeners, so much to think about. Really appreciate your time today. Thank you so much for being on "The Food For Thought" podcast.

Jenn: Thank you so much. I really enjoyed our time together.

About the Author

Erin A. Hallstrom

Erin Hallstrom oversaw our digital content strategy for the Food Processing brand from 2008-2023. She is now the Associate Director of SEO Strategy for Endeavor Business Media, where she holds technical certifications in both website analytics and search engine optimization. Most recently, she was named the 2022 Marianne Dekker Mattera Award Winner

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