At the end of last month I attended a General Assembly class in Boston Massachusetts on behalf of Innovation Excellence called Connected Food.
The website describes the evening by stating that “Emerging technologies are disrupting how local food is produced, sourced, distributed, and consumed — paving the way for new business ideas, challenges, and emerging trends. Join us for an evening of talks and networking dedicated to connecting innovators in the sustainable food industry and helping to re-envision the way business is done”.
The evening program was divided in two halves. In the first half local innovative start-ups described the processes that had lead them to their current market situation, while in the second part another group of start-up owners described their fund raising experiences.
The first group had a very different look and take to the second group. They included Jeff Barry the owner of Boston organics, a home delivery organic food distributor, Igor Kharitonenkov, co-founder of Bootstrap Compost, Joshua Resnikoff of Cuppow and JD Kemp of ORFoodex.
This was a very earthy group, they deal in dirt, food waste and spillage. Comments were varied about their experiences, but they generally held the line that the model of asking for millions of dollars for start up funding was not one that they would choose. This argument seemed to be based upon an idea that large start up money was invested “looking for the new Amazon”, and not into “collecting scraps of waste food” or making deals with farmers for organic carrots.
Resnikoff told of various other food related start-ups that he had been involved in that had failed to take off, and in general the group painted a very realistic picture of their entrepreneurial experiences.
I felt that there was an implicit argument however running through the debate that because they believed that their organizations were founded in some way for the social good, they did not feel a great affinity with the (at least Cambridge) world of high finance start-ups.
One comment that was particular telling urged the audience not to worry about obtaining a million dollars of start up money but to “get hold of $5000 if you can, then think about how to spend it and then look for more, forget about the millions”.
This idea of innovation for the social good and related funding underpins thinking around responsible innovation, and it lead me into thinking about a previous article I wrote called Rewarding Responsible Innovators and my work at the Bassetti Foundation.
Fine local food and wine was served during the interval, and the participants mingled with a very interesting and interested crowd. Most were there to garner ideas for their fledgling start-ups and I felt that many parties gained a lot from the experience.
The second half of the class was dedicated to experience gained by another and very different group of start-ups. The panelists included Alessandro Bellino, owner of the Coffee trike, Miles Maschi of Perfect Fuel Chocolate, Justin Robertson, co-founder of Drizly and Matt Kiernen of Level Up.
This section was much more a call to charge for funding, something akin to a class in positive thinking, and very well received by the waiting audience. A lot of advice was given in an informal and sometimes funny environment followed by more networking and socializing.
General Assembly run a lot of these types of courses, and they obviously give a lot to the innovation community. Their slogan that ‘General Assembly transforms thinkers into creators through education and opportunities in technology, business, and design’ gives a good description of their aims, and their classes are a good social and entrepreneurial event.
image credit: omicspublishinggroup.org
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Jonny Hankins is the Foreign Correspondent for Bassetti Foundation for Responsible Innovation. He serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Responsible Innovation, participates in the Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation, and is the Responsible Innovation Editor for Innovation Excellence. Trained as a sociologist at the Victoria University of Manchester UK, his interests range from innovation in the renewable energy sector, bio and medical ethics and the role of politics in innovation, to questions of ethical and moral responsibility. He lives in Boston, MA where he is also a musician, actor and street performer.