Editor’s note: We’re chronicling how tech is changing the way we eat and drink as we lead up to this fall’s Food Loves Tech. Our annual deep dive into appropriate food and ag technologies returnsto Industry City on November 2–3, 2018 and you can get $20 off the regular admission pricewhile our early bird special lasts.
Turning an idea and a few tested recipes into a food business takes more than passion and hard work. It takes capital, time and customers. Cheryl Clements thinks the right kind of crowdfunding could make it a whole lot easier.
PieShell, founded in the city in 2016, is a crowdfunding platform designed to serve food and beverage entrepreneurs. In food technology, Clements saw a different kind of opportunity than in developing a food product. She wasn’t interested in developing another consumer packaged good or food business, nor is that kind of entrepreneurship her strong suit. Clements spent the majority of her career as a senior project manager and consultant, skills that have proven instrumental in her work at PieShell.
Food and beverage-oriented companies command a different audience from the kinds of technologies and products often found on crowdfunding sites, and Clements finds they tend to get lost in the fray. And she would know: through existing general platforms and equity crowdfunding, Clements funded the startup costs for PieShell exclusively through the model.
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By creating a platform for food and beverage businesses specifically, Clements underscores that people turn towards food for social and mission driven benefits that might not apply elsewhere. Context and consumer expectations matters for fundraising and as Clements put it, “you don’t walk into a Best Buy to buy granola.”
The model serves as unique marketing opportunity for food entrepreneurs, too. Crowdfunding lets founders make two essential asks: for help and for money. The money counts, but the help through customer feedback serves as an invaluable opportunity for market research and proof of concept. And customers who contribute both capital and engage with the brand get attached. “The people that contribute are truly investing in you—they are ride or die,” Clements said. “Crowdfunding is so much more about the crowd than the funding.”
Ultimately, Clements hopes to grow the platform into a vital node of the food and beverage space. Part of her mission is to think beyond the latest, flashiest gadget and towards creating a means for independent entrepreneurs to create viable businesses. PieShell has successfully funded each of its eighteen projects, and the community is only growing. “You can come and go with new tech,” she said. “But you’re always going to eat.”