In Episode 100 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on June 22, 2013, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Dick Lyons, co-host of the Wendel Forum and co-founder of Wendel’s sustainable business practice group.

Richard Lyons, co-host of The Wendel Forum and Wendel Rosen Green Business Attorney

Richard Lyons, co-host of The Wendel Forum and Wendel Rosen Green Business Attorney

In the early 1980’s, Lyons was practicing business law when he worked on one of the early wind power projects in the Altamont Pass.  Since that time, he has continued to work on wind power projects and has worked with solar power companies too.  Before long, he began to hear about the business activity related to natural and organic products.  He attended his first Expo West – the trade show devoted to natural and organic products – in the 1990’s.

“I was amazed by the number of companies, the different types of foods and the overall energy of the people,” he recalls. The natural products industry expanded even more with the creation of Whole Foods, which retailed natural products across the nation.  Since then, he’s represented many natural foods companies, including United Natural Foods Inc., which is now a $5 billion company thanks in part to mergers and acquisitions that Lyons worked on.

Around the same time, Lyons wanted to create a cohesive law firm practice group that would focus on representing companies that benefited the environment. As co-founder of Wendel’s sustainable business practice group, he also wanted to incorporate sustainable practices into the law firm itself.  Together with his co-founders, he was able to convince his partners that recycling and energy saving measures were also good business.

Sustainable business start-ups face many of the same issues as new companies in other industries, but they often have specialized concerns, according to Lyons.  For example, if the product is certified organic, there may be supply chain issues.  In addition, these companies are often formed not just to make a profit but also to achieve larger social goals such as having positive effect on the environment and their community.  They also need capital from investors that have the same social values and expectations about the return on investment.

From co-hosting The Wendel Forum radio show, Lyons (who, incidentally, played and recorded the Forum’s intro and outro music) learned that people start sustainable companies for one or more of the following reasons: they had an epiphany related to sustainability, they wanted healthy products for themselves that they couldn’t find, or they wanted to benefit the environment and the community.

We’d love it if you would share your favorite Wendel Forum moment with us. What was your favorite interview with Dick as host?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Lyons: Episode 100 of The Wendel Forum (27:52 mins; mp3)

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Wendel Rosen’s Sustainable/Green Business Practice Group: http://www.wendel.com/greenbusiness  

Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

In Episode 96 of The Wendel Forum  (originally aired on April 27, 2013, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Terry Hunt, CEO of Wild Planet Foods, which supplies sustainably caught seafood.

 Terry Hunt, CEO of Wild Planet Foods

Terry Hunt, CEO of Wild Planet Foods

In 2000, William Carvalho, the founder of Wild Planet Foods, attended a presentation about overharvesting at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  According to Hunt, Carvalho had an epiphany then, deciding he wanted to help conserve wild marine ecosystems.  He vowed to never again source or sell fish from an unsustainable fishery.  Today, the company’s albacore tuna, its primary product, is sourced internationally only from sustainable fisheries.

For Wild Planet Foods, being “sustainably caught” is a high hurdle.  Specifically, the bycatch must be close to zero. That is, the company works only with fisheries that “poll and troll” – using one pole to catch one fish, as opposed to long lining.  Also, the fishery’s catch method must not damage the marine ecosystem, and the local fish population must not be under stress or in decline.  Following these principles, Wild Planet Food is rated green by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

In addition to serving as CEO of Wild Planet Foods, Hunt is also the founder of Preserve Capital Group.  The boutique investment company’s mission is to provide funding advice for businesses launching a new product.  Hunt works with them to build a business and sales plan.  Past Preserve Capital companies include CleanFish, supplier of high-end sustainable seafood, and SunSpire, maker of natural, handmade confections.

Does sustainability matter to you in purchasing seafood?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Hunt: Episode 96 of The Wendel Forum (27:42 mins; mp3)

Wild Planet Foods Website: http://www.wildplanetfoods.com

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Website:  http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx

Preserve Capital Group Website: http://preservecap.com

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

 

In Episode 85 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on November 17, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Kelly Boyd, founder of My True Nature, a line of natural body care products for children.

Kelly Boyd, founder of My True Nature

After Boyd’s first child was born, a baby nurse introduced her to natural products for kids.  Always interested in cooking and in organic foods, Boyd, a corporate securities lawyer and tech company executive, began developing her own formulations for personal care products, including bubble bath, shampoo, lotion and body wash.  She gave the products to friends, who tested them for her.  One of the things she learned in the process was how sensitive people are to scents.  In the process of finding the right formulation with the right scent, Boyd made more than 300 batches of her products.

After her second child was born, Boyd quit her job, and she and her husband financed and launched My True Nature.  Using all natural, largely organic ingredients, My True Nature products are manufactured locally in the Bay Area.  She describes them as “mainstream green,” meaning they look and feel like comparable mainstream products.  For example, the shampoo and body wash suds up and the bubble bath does, in fact, bubble.

Initially, Boyd sold the products to friends, who helped spread the word by putting the products in gift bags at birthday parties.  Later, she began selling online, including offering group deals through sites like Groupon.  Some of her products are now in “brick & mortar” stores, but the majority of her sales come from the big internet retailers, such as Amazon.com.

Boyd says that it was important that she not have investors in her company.  With her experience in the legal and tech company worlds, she knew investors would demand, and rightfully so, that she spend her entire time and energy on building the company.  And she knew that she would feel responsible to do so.  Instead, without having investors to answer to, she can devote the time and energy she wants to her children.  She recognizes that her company will grow more slowly, but the real payoff is that she can be the kind of mom she wants to be.

Boyd believes the rigidity of corporate jobs is contributing to the emergence of a generation of mothers who are starting companies.  In fact, Boyd believes there’s no better time than now for a woman to start a business.  There are funding sources particularly looking for women entrepreneurs, especially women launching green businesses.

Do you know green mompreneurs like Boyd?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Boyd: Episode 85 of The Wendel Forum (27:46 mins; mp3)

My True Nature Website: http://www.mytruenature.net

960 KNEW AM Radio Website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

In Episode 82 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on October 27, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Caroline Duell, the founder of Elemental Herbs, an organic body care company based on the central coast of California.

With a background in herbal medicine, Duell is a massage therapist and outdoor enthusiast who began making skin care products for her friends and family.  Later, after success selling the products at farmers markets, she launched Elemental Herbs, a California certified B Corporation.  That certification is to sustainable business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee – it measures a company’s commitment to operating a business responsibly and sustainably.

Caroline Duell, Founder of Elemental Herbs

Duell also runs a farm, from which she harvests some ingredients for her natural healing products such as All Good Goop, a moisturizer and salve.  While Duell also gets ingredients from outside suppliers, she only partners with similar-minded businesses.  In particular, she examines other companies’ employee benefits, utilities use, social benefits and transparency.  Though not certified organic, all Elemental Herbs holistic products and remedies contain organic ingredients and are free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

The Elemental Herbs farm also offers a CSA (community supported agriculture) and serves as an education center, including offering courses about sustainable living.  As a member of 1% for the Planet, one percent of all Elemental Herbs revenues is dedicated to fighting for social and environmental justice around the world.  Organizations it supports include a local marine mammal protection organization, a local trail organization, Save Our Snow, which provides information about how global warming affects the planet’s snowfall, and cityWILD, which brings inner city kids into the mountains.

Do you care about the company policies, as well as the ingredients, of your skin care products?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Duell: Episode 82 of The Wendel Forum (26:47 mins; mp3)

Elemental Herbs website: http://elementalherbs.com

B Corporation website: http://www.bcorporation.net/

1% for the Planet website: http://onepercentfortheplanet.org/en/

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In Episode 78 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on September 29, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Scott Potter, managing partner of San Francisco Equity Partners, a private equity firm that specializes in consumer products growth companies.

Scott Potter of San Francisco Equity Partner

Scott Potter, San Francisco Equity Partners, in The Wendel Forum studio

Potter’s firm partners with companies that have demonstrated a proven demand for their products.  So while there’s no consumer adoption risk, the companies are usually facing operational and scale challenges to reach the next level. Typically, they are $5-10 million companies poised to scale their businesses, often to north of $100 million.

Identifying these optimal risk-reward companies is more science than art.  San Francisco Equity Partners is particularly focused on its companies’ channel strategy.  That is, a given beauty product can’t successfully be sold at both Sephora and Wal-Mart.  Channels include food (Safeway), drug (Walgreens), mass (Wal-Mart), club (Costco), prestige (specialty retailers and department stores) and direct-to-consumer (online and direct-response TV).  Determining the right channel for products is often a company’s key to success.

A growing channel is the so-called natural channel, as epitomized by Whole Foods, which is separate from the traditional grocery channel.  But Potter’s firm specializes in natural products that are targeted for the mass channel.  Companies targeting this channel should not ask consumers to pay more for an inferior product “just to save the fish,” Potter says.  Rather, the product’s value proposition has to work in and of itself outside of sustainability and natural missions.  The prime example is Method products.

When San Francisco Equity Partners first invested in Method, it was producing just hand and cleaning products.  It has evolved to include bathroom and specialty products and even successfully launched into the competitive laundry space.  Early on, Method knew it would never have the marketing budget of Proctor & Gamble.  So it chose to overinvest in packaging, focusing on the point of sale: when product is on the shelf.  Method’s in-house design team devised a distinctive look, including the bottle molds, and focused on the aesthetic and the user-experience (such as the one-hand laundry detergent dispensing system). With the “design baked into the products,” Method aspired to be like Apple.

At what kind of store are you most likely to purchase natural products?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Scott Potter: Episode 78 of The Wendel Forum (27:48 mins; mp3)

San Francisco Equity Partners Website: http://www.sfequitypartners.com

Method Products Website: http://methodhome.com

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rylons

In Episode 77 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on September 22, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Dr. Jay Udani founder and CEO of Medicus Research, a contract research organization for the natural health products industry, including botanical drugs, dietary supplements and functional foods.

Dr. Jay Udani of Medicus Research

Dr. Jay Udani of Medicus Research

Dietary supplements give people choices in their health care. Whenever manufacturers of dietary supplements make formal claims – such as “supports healthy joints” – the supplements must undergo clinical trials and testing, akin to pharmaceutical testing.  Dick and Dr. Udani discuss how both enforcement of and consumer interest in clinical trials for dietary supplements is increasing.  Even major food manufacturers, such as yogurt manufacturer Dannon, have received letters from the FDA about their formal health claims.

Whereas pharmaceuticals are chemicals that interact with the body by targeting a pathway or organ, dietary supplements assist the body in better performing normal, healthy functions.  As a result, clinical trials of supplements must be done on healthy people. Supplements can take longer than drugs to show effects so the best way to test the efficacy of supplements is for the individuals in the clinical trials to track how they’re feeling over time.  Udani’s research program uses iPods to monitor individuals, whose responses may be both subjective and objectively measurable. When evaluating a clinical trial, consumers should examine how the supplement was tested, the population used and the measuring tools.

When taking dietary supplements, does clinical testing matter to you?
Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Dr. Udani: Episode 77 of The Wendel Forum (27:52 mins; mp3)

Medicus Research Website: http://www.medicusresearch.com

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rylons

In Episode 76 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on September 15, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Ben Lee, director of business development at San Francisco-based CircleUp, a crowd funding platform founded in April.

Ben Lee of CircleUp

Ben Lee of CircleUp

CircleUp provides an online mechanism for consumer products companies and retailers to reach out to a broad network of potential investors, who may fund the companies in exchange for equity. CircleUp, which affiliated with WR Hambrecht, takes a commission.

So far, they’ve received 600 applications; they’ve selected 10 companies and four – including a baby skin care brand and an organic food brand – have been successfully funded.  CircleUp’s team serves as a curator for the investors. In evaluating companies, they look for businesses with $1 million to $10 million in annual revenue.  Usually these companies are seeking to raise $500,000 to $2 million to launch new products and achieve the next stage of growth. The typical investment is $5,000 to $25,000 (while each company’s offer is different, these are generally in the form of preferred stock shares); CircleUp assists with larger transactions offline.

While CircleUp streamlines what can otherwise be a year-long funding process, raising money through the platform can still take several months. Although CircleUp selects companies and presents opportunities, investors must do their own due diligence.  Like any private company investment, crowd funding is risky and the investment horizon may be three to seven years.

Lee says CircleUp’s goals include enhancing the ecosystem around consumer products, helping as many small consumer brands get financing as possible, and making sure CircleUp’s platform is a great experience for investors and companies.

Have you participated in crowd funding?  What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges to this form of financing?  

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Lee: Episode 76 of The Wendel Forum (27:56 mins; mp3)

Circle Up Website: https://circleup.com

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

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