Slow Money: Alternative Lending Strategies

Since 2009, Slow Money has held annual gatherings on food, investing, and culture. Featured in Louisville was a broad line-up of some of the most influential entrepreneurs of our time who think outside the box of conventional economic infrastructure. Over three days, authors, activists, farmers, and food producers gathered at the Kentucky Center for Performing Arts to discuss a new direction for our food economy. As a guest blogger and recipient of IDEAS 40203 ArtPlace America grant, gardener and baker Sarah Owens is bringing highlights of Slow Money to Creative Innovation Zone as a reflection of her 2015 Louisville-based project.

November 12, 2014

On the last day of the conference, panelists and keynote speakers focused on specific strategies and issues concerning lending for small entrepreneurs.  The conversation lingered on helping our local economies and 18 businesses were showcased for their products and growth.  At the end of the showcase, a vote was cast for Beet Coin loan awards.

Beet Coin is a concept that has been developed by Slow Money as a way to make 0% interest loans to small food entrepreneurs.  Slow Money collects the proceeds donated from attendees as well as others who contributed online for use as three-year, 0% loans, given by popular vote.  Each person who donated, as well as attendees of the conference, received one vote regardless of monetary contribution amounts. Bauman’s Farms located in Kansas, received the first place award of a no-interest loan for $60,000. The second place awards were divided between two other businesses, a last minute decision that was made as a reflection of a close tie of votes.  One of these was New Roots, located in Louisville who has been a leader in bringing communities and farmers together to secure greater food justice for all.

The Beet Coin was just one of the methods highlighted focusing on ways to empower small food entrepreneurs seeking capital.  Other strategies included the concept of royalty financing which allows a business to repay loans based on a percentage of revenue.  This allows some flexibility and a chance for the business to grow based on successes.  As another option, Credibles were introduced as edible credits where customers invest ahead of time giving businesses the capital they need to expand in exchange for something similar to a gift card.  The benefit of this is that the lender remains engaged in the entrepreneur’s business and their product.

All of these strategies were very exciting and have echoed concerns expressed throughout small food businesses as well as other craftsmen I have encountered over the last few weeks traveling through Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina.  Artisans choose to launch a business because they love what they do and draw great satisfaction from engaging with their customers.  The unfortunate drawback is that in order to seek funding for growth, we often have to sacrifice ownership and sometimes even control over the direction of the business that was so directly spawned from innate passion.  Slow Money Louisville was incredibly inspiring and I walked away with a toolbox of opportunities in which to grow here in my new community.

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