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American Food Venture Forum: Q&A with founder Jude Conway

The American Food Venture Forum will be taking place at Harrah’s Hotel in Council Bluffs, Iowa this Tuesday and Wednesday (October 19-20). It kicks off at 5 p.m. on Tuesday and concludes at 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

“The American Food Venture Forum is an investment forum that brings in food and agricultural technology companies from around North America to give a 15-minute pitch to investors interested in those industries,” event founder Jude Conway described in a recent email interview. “In its three-year history, the forum has had about 50 presenters from every region of the U.S.” On its website, the event boasts that it’s “the only venture capital and angel investor event in the nation focused solely on emerging food and ag-tech businesses.”

And the fact that it takes place in the state known as the “Food Capital of the World” is no coincidence. According to its website, the event “leverages Iowa’s status as a top agricultural state to draw both innovative companies and leading venture capital firms to the event.”

To learn more about the event, we interviewed Conway by email. First, here’s Conway’s bio:

Jude Conway is the founder and CEO of Des Moines-based Entrepreneurial Advisors, Inc., a firm providing advisory services to entrepreneurs in the areas or finance, operations and marketing. From 2004 to 2009, Conway was a managing partner with Hopewell Ventures, a Chicago-based venture capital fund with over $110 million of capital under management. Conway still has a financial interest in the Hopewell. Prior to Hopewell, Conway managed two smaller venture capital funds in Des Moines as well as the liquidation of a venture fund for the Iowa State Treasurer.

Silicon Prairie News: What’s the backstory of the event – when did it start?

Jude Conway: Well the idea came to me in the fall of 2007. Hopewell Ventures had sponsored an investment forum in Des Moines and we were quite disappointed in the quality of the presenters and the number of real investors in attendance. It seemed that Iowa was trying to copy what worked on the East and West coast trying to showcase life science and information technology companies, without the same quality or quantity of investment opportunities in these industries.

The next week I was in Downtown Des Moines during all of the World Food Prize events and it hit me that we needed to concentrate on what we were good at and that was the food and agricultural sectors. I let the idea germinate for a month or so and then bounced the idea off of a number of people in the food an ag sectors, including Ambassador Kenneth Quinn of the World Food Prize. Everyone thought it was a great idea. We got started planning the October 2008 event in about February 2008. Up until a few weeks before the event we weren’t sure it was going to come off but it exceeded everyone’s expectations and the American Food Venture Forum was born.

Who are the types of people speaking and attending the event?

We always have some speakers for our reception, breakfast and luncheon that will interest both the presenting companies and the investors. This year we have the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture speaking at the Tuesday evening reception. At the breakfast we have Jesse Rettig, an extremely successful entrepreneur from Woodbine, Iowa, about 30 miles northeast of Council Bluffs. Finally, our keynote speaker is the vice president of research and development at ConAgra Foods

Then we have the companies presenting their investment pitches. Roughly half of them are consumer brand product and half are agricultural technology. Each year we have some that do not fit in either category. We have had one company each of the last two years with equipment for commercial kitchens. This year we also have a company with technology for the fast food industry that allows a person to order and pay without any interaction with a human. Most of the companies are from the Midwest but this year we have companies presenting from Virginia, Florida and Arizona.

What’s the most common type of company you have in attendance?

Well there will be a mix of presenting companies and investors at the conference. The investors range from angel investors looking to invest $50,00-100,000 all the way to venture capital firms looking at investing $5 million-10 million. Likewise, we have companies looking for relatively small amounts of money.

There are companies with natural pesticides, organic food, nutritious beverages, algae production, and frozen desserts. We even have a company started by two high school students that one a national contest to develop a granola bar for space travel. The granola bar has been used on space shuttle flights and at the international space station.

What do you think will be the biggest theme or trend discussed this year?

Green is really big right now and many of the companies coming have technology that lessens the carbon footprint. The other hot issues right now are nutrition and food safety and you will see these discussed, as well.

Do you have anything else to add?

I’d just like to say that its not too late to register. I think anyone involved in entrepreneurship or angel investing would find the Forum interesting. Also we have a great rate for college students. We’d love to see a great turnout from the Omaha-Council Bluffs community.

Learn more about the American Food Venture Forum at foodventureforum.com.

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