SMNW was recently asked to prepare an program overview for a regional proposal. This seems to be a perfect way to share what we have accomplised to date. Please contact us with any questions.
Slow Money Northwest (SMNW) catalyzes investment and business development opportunities to strengthen the Pacific Northwest’s sustainable food economy. SMNW focuses on connecting investors interested in food and farming with food and farm businesses seeking investment. Since opening it’s doors in 2010 SMNW has provided business development assistance to 34 WA and OR based businesses and successfully helped 7 businesses secure investments of just under $4 million.
SMNW works from the understanding that funding and financing may be available for low-risk and established businesses as well as high-flying tech startups but not for small businesses and social enterprises the local markets are demanding. SMNW has identified various gaps within the finance continuum for businesses trying to engage in the healthy regional food market segment: business development services; microloans and lines of credit below $20,000; risk tolerance to fund new and small enterprises; opportunities for investors to meet businesses seeking financing; an overarching strategy that better matches supply to demand for healthier food produced close to regional markets; ability for businesses to safely crowdfund from the large, non-accredited investor community.
SMNW has developed projects that directly address these gaps and collaborates with foundations, regional CDFIs, community banks, credit unions, and business development programs where appropriate. Engaged businesses are screened for traditional indicators of jobs, revenue, management team, cashflow, and quality of plan. We also screen for sustainability metrics including sustainable acreage under production, source of ingredients, fair labor practices, and target markets.
The longest running project of SMNW is our Food Investor Network that directly connects investors with food and farm businesses, with regular meetings now occurring in Seattle and Portland. SMNW reviews business plans and makes comments with the goal of preparing businesses for a presentation meeting to an audience of accredited impact investors who understand that a financial investment yields more than just a financial return. The reality is that most businesses reviewed need technical and business development assistance as much as they do financing.
Concurrent to developing these meetings SMNW discovered people in the community eager to help but who were not capable of investing. These individuals now make up the SMNW Angel Professional network that connects professionals to businesses needing finance, legal, accounting, marketing, and business plan development assistance.
SMNW recently launched its Farmer Reserve Fund, a loan loss reserve program that combines the lending infrastructure of an existing credit union, the hands-on experience of a farm incubator, and a limited impact investment to extend credit to beginning farmers who are good risks, but not qualified on paper. Our goal is to replicate this program in King County once we secure a networked due diligence partner who can provide a non-financial review of fund applicants.
SMNW has been contracted to develop a Washington State Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Account project geared towards incentivizing financial education and building assets for new farm businesses. The project is under development and will launch this winter.
SMNW is helping lead conversations among regional foundations, banks, and investors interested in a more strategic approach to investing in the businesses we need. Current discussions include a tiered investment fund with the potential for a larger, regional meeting in early 2013.
SMNW is closely following the developing crowdfunding regulations with the goal of engaging more people safely in community investment strategies.
Growth of Slow Money NW is constrained by deal flow (ability to connect with aligned businesses truly ready for investment), funding to provide a more formal technical assistance program for small businesses that are not yet ready for investment, and general operating support.