Revolution Foods is a fascinating start up — a for-profit company focused on a public health issue (obesity), in a highly regulated “industry” (meals served in schools), with venture capital funding. When I heard that co-founder and CEO Kristin Groos Richmond was going to speak about the founding of her green company, I had to go hear how she got the idea, how she got Whole Foods to become a partner before Revolution Foods was even off the ground, and how she obtained venture funding.
At an event co-sponsored by the UC Davis Center for Entrepreneurship and the Davis Net Impact chapter, on January 24, 2008, Groos Richmond advised attendees to do a pilot project when starting a company. Although she acknowledged the importance of the startup business fundamentals (identifying a market need and researching what the market really wants) before starting, her advice was to get started with a pilot project as soon as possible.
Groos Richmond and her co-founding partner, Kirsten Tobey, were in the MBA program at UC Berkeley when they started a pilot program to provide healthy meals for children in one elementary school. By having an actual project lined up, it was easier to get Whole Foods Northern California to provide food at their best pricing (usually reserved for extremely large customers). And by successfully completing the pilot project, and proving there is demand for the service, that good food can be provided at very low prices, and that the founders have what it takes to run this highly regulated and time-sensitive business, it was possible to get JPMorgan’s Bay Area Equity Fund to provide initial funding to launch the Company with food service for four schools.
It’s easy for an eco-entrepreneur or any entrepreneur to write a business plan with a multi-million dollar marketing budget and become attached to the “ideal launch plan”. However, every entrepreneur should have a couple of back-up plans of how to start the business with less money. And, those back up plans should reduce a future investor’s perceived risk, by providing proof of the market need and by attracting credibility-building partners, customers, and/or advisors.
Hearing Groos Richmond speak, reminded me of my conversation with Brilliant Earth co-founder, Beth Gerstein, who told me that she advices future ecopreneurs to forgo perfection and to pursue the possible. Startup businesses are built step by step and can become quite successful by starting modestly.
If you are an eco-entrepreneur, please use the “comment” link below to tell us how you got your startup off the ground.