This year marks the third time that Santa Barbara has hosted the Clean Business Investment Summit. Put on by the California Coast Venture Forum (CCVF), the event serves as an annual opportunity, “where socially responsible investors, and service providers, meet socially responsible entrepreneurs.” The summit’s center was UCSB’s Corwin Pavilion, while pouring out the building were booths occupied by impassioned entrepreneurs putting their ideas, projects, and plans on display.
The summit began when keynote speaker Jim Wolfe, former CEO of CCVF and reviver of the Balance Bar brand, rose to the podium after a brief message of encouragement from Congressmember Lois Capps. Wolfe set the day’s precedent of giving pragmatic advice to the room of potential investors and people seeking funds for business start-ups. He retold his story of transforming Balance Bar from a dying, million-dollar company in 1995 to a thriving corporation that sold to Kraft for $268 million in 2000. Wolfe described all the hurdles in expanding the company from vending in only a couple natural food stores in Santa Barbara to vending nationwide in chains like Trader Joe’s and Walmart. For instance, he rebranded Balance Bars from a weight-loss, diabetic-friendly food to a tasty, healthy snack. He established and adapted distribution and sales methods, giving employees incentive. He noted that the key was “not looking behind or beside us, but looking ahead.” His stories served not only as good anecdotes but also as solid advice related to the core concepts of the conference.
Despite Wolfe’s impressive professional record (he’s held consulting and executive marketing positions with Gatorade, Welch’s, Mott’s, Coca-Cola, and Snapple, among others), he was far from the only business-growth wizard in the room. His hour-long address was followed by an Innovative Growth and Invest Strategies Panel, moderated by financial reporter and author Alexander Haislip and manned by Andrew Jacobson, Cynthia Ringo, Frank Foster, John Duffy, and Jack Ucciferri, a diverse group of company founders and investment professionals united in their experience of recognizing successful business strategies. They went in depth on the dynamics of “double-bottom-line” companies, and balancing a socially or environmentally positive cause with establishing and maintaining a profitable enterprise.
The panelists dished out some practical advice for all entrepreneurs as well. “The days of 50-page business briefs are gone,” one panelist said; they all seemed to agree that catching the eye of important investors requires a “facilitated introduction” from someone trusted by the investment firm, and a 10- to 15-slide PowerPoint presentation of the product.
Following the panel were a few example presentations featuring actual products. A dozen or so entrepreneurs showcased a range of products and business plans in various stages of development. Jude Ken-Kwofie, founder of It’s Moringa, spoke about how he sought to expand the production and sale of his hyper-healthy, moringa oleifera plant-based products. According to his presentation, “Moringa is the healthiest plant on earth.” His company proposes a program called Nourish Yourself, Nourish Another, which would help to end global malnutrition by fighting obesity and hunger.
The Kiddo Company was an example of an area business trying to scale up. Beth Bailey, whose Kiddo Squeezies have made their way into local Whole Foods stores, took some pages from summit presenters’ books.
Presentations to investors featured everything from IPowerUp’s solar-charging smartphone case to GI Nutrition’s protein- and caffeine-infused nutrition bars to Fusion Power Corporation’s fusion energy plan. Presentations also included three student groups’ clean business presentations.
A second panel session was held the afternoon of the forum. It focused on renewable growth, and featured a keynote speech titled “Impact Investing Trends and Opportunities, and Highlight Golden Mean Capital.”
Several other awards and speeches were scheduled for the afternoon as well, but, for the average viewer, the excitement of the summit was in hearing the success stories of shrewd venture capitalists and seeing the enthusiasm of new entrepreneurs as they release their projects to the world. At the core of the event were a commitment to positive social and environmental change, and efforts to fuse heartfelt philanthropy into business strategies.