60-second interview: Jordan Gaspar and Lauren Jupiter, AccelFoods

AccelFoods: Successful food entrepreneurs are 'relentless and resourceful strategic thinkers'

A selection of companies in which AccelFoods has invested

AccelFoods - a New York-based early-stage investment platform making waves in the natural products space – is offering brands it partners with a lot more than capital, managing partners Jordan Gaspar and Lauren Jupiter tell FoodNavigator-USA editor Elaine Watson.

In addition to seed capital, Accel Foods has provided mentoring and support to high-profile early stage brands from EXO (cricket protein bars) and Four Sigma Foods (mushroom-fuelled foods/beverages), to Bandar Foods (Indian inspired condiments and snacks), Jica Chips, Freshbar and I Heart Keenwah.  

What types of brands does AccelFoods work with?

We are focused solely on differentiated packaged food and beverage brands at a couple of stages. The first is the accelerator stage where we work with companies that are doing up to one million of revenue over the past 12 months, but are already on shelf and have demonstrated some traction. But we also invest in companies that are doing one to a couple of million of revenue, and we are writing significantly larger checks here.

So we’ll cut checks from $50,000 to several million dollars. We help bridge the gap between friends and family and angel investors, and institutional investors.

What kind of early stage brands don’t you work with?

Right now, we don’t work with restaurants or other food-retail concepts, or alcoholic beverages.  

How do you identify and vet brands you work with?

We have more than 250 people affiliated with the platform and we talk to a lot of people. As for vetting, we go through a very rigorous screening process. We're looking for great founders, relentless and resourceful strategic thinkers with superior leadership skills that are building brands and scalable platforms in attractive markets.

Do brands have to pay to participate in the AccelFoods program?

No. We do not charge for our services, we are minority investors in our businesses.  

What does AccelFoods offer its partners?

We offer access to our hands-on operating team with sales, marketing, operations, financial & legal expertise; a mentor community of more than 100 thought leaders from food and investment backgrounds; a best-in-class group of key partners who provide discounts and/or added-value packages for their services; and a direct capital investment.

What’s different about AccelFoods vs other incubators?

Incubators are becoming more prevalent in the food industry, but we have a differentiated approach as we work nationwide with entrepreneurs, we are not a regionally-focused resource. We also felt that there were some great models out there in the tech world, but they needed adjusting for the food and beverage market.

How long does the AccelFoods program last?

We have a program for a group of entrepreneurs [typically up to eight companies] that is repeated annually and lasts for just under nine months [the class of 2016 launches mid-to late February]; but on an ongoing basis, we have our bridge to growth fund where we pursue investments in companies that are post-graduation, or we just make investments opportunistically.

What do early stage companies need the most, apart from money?

It’s important, in an industry like food where you are often paying for inventory in advance, to really understand what’s driving the difference between cash in and cash out and figuring out how to manage cash flow. Also, logistics is a challenge.  Companies are also under pressure to develop best practices early as they need to be ready for later stage investors at an earlier stage than they were historically.

Is now a good time to start a food business?

Absolutely. More capital is being made available to early stage companies and distribution platforms such as Thrive Market have enabled products to get to market more efficiently. Larger, more traditional supermarket buyers are also allocating more shelf space to growing early stage innovative brands.

How much money do small food companies need?

Some businesses are more capital intensive than others, so it’s hard to say. One of the things that is very exciting is all the new capital that’s been earmarked for the food space in the last couple of years. Strategics are also looking to invest capital in brands much earlier. Angel investors are getting involved earlier. Founders of food business are also setting up their own funds and incubators.

Since we launched AccelFoods [in January 2014], more than a billion dollars in new capital has come into food-directed opportunities and several billion more going to broader consumer-related business, so in 18-24 months when that capital has flowed through the system, the landscape will look very different.

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