In Episode 101 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on June 29, 2013, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-host of The Wendel Forum and co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group and co-host of The Wendel Forum (did you get all that?).

Bill Acevedo

Bill Acevedo

In 2008, when Acevedo became chair of the law firm’s Green/Sustainable Business Practice Group, he wanted to take the group from start-up mode to an established business mode. The group was founded in 2003, around the time Wendel Rosen became the first law firm in the country to be certified as a green business. By 2008, the sustainable business space was really heating up. As practice leader, Acevedo’s challenge was to understand the paths and different focuses of various partners in the group and to demonstrate to clients the firm’s commitment to the space.  He did outreach to explain what it meant to be a green law firm and to let clients know the partners in the group shared the passion and ideology of the people and companies they represented.

Even when the economy suffered a setback, the sustainable and organic companies represented by Wendel continued to thrive. Today, the biggest challenge for these companies remains access to capital. As natural products companies want to become more mainstream, they need to scale. And to scale, they need more capital.  Experienced legal counsel can help with funding options.

Acevedo’s favorite Wendel Forum shows have been those focusing on surfing companies and organic food companies. With a longtime interest in the health of the ocean and in natural foods, the show has been a great way to marry Acevedo’s work and personal passions.

What was your favorite episode of The Wendel Forum?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Acevedo:  Episode 101 of The Wendel Forum (26:06 mins; mp3)

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

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

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

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 97 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on May 18, 2013, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Santiago Cuenca-Romero, CEO of Premiere Organics, maker of Artisana Organic brand foods.

Santiago Cuenca-Romero, CEO of Premiere Organics

Santiago Cuenca-Romero, CEO of Premiere Organics

Founded 10 years ago, Artisana makes organic, raw foods such as ground and spreadable nuts and seeds.  Organic refers to the way the ingredients are grown; raw, though it has no regulatory definition, refers to the way a product is cooked and processed.  In particular, Artisana cooks its products at the lowest possible temperature because heat can alter nutritional qualities as well as colors and taste.  Available in jars and pouches, Artisana’s spreads include almonds, pecans, macadamia nuts, cashews and walnuts, sunflower seeds, coconut products and superfoods like berries and powders made from roots and leaves.

Cuenca-Romero grew up in Spain appreciating good food.  He has a biochemistry degree and a master’s in food science.  Although he has no formal business, finance or economics training, his father served as a colonel in the Spanish army in charge of 5,000 officers.  As a result, leadership, he says, is in his genes.

What’s trending in food now, according to Cuenca-Romero, is a focus on allergens, gluten-free and dairy-free products, as well as an interest in superfoods, antioxidant and omega 3’s.

When grocery shopping, do you seek out raw, organic foods?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Cuenca-Romero: Episode 97 of The Wendel Forum  (27:38 mins; mp3)

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

Premiere Organics website: http://artisanafoods.com

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 95 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on April 13, 2013, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Deven Clemens and Gregg Bagni, directors of White Road Investments.

Deven Clemens of White Road Investments

Deven Clemens of White Road Investments

Founded in 2008, White Road Investments is venture capital firm backed by several current and former executives of Clif Bar.  (Clemens is senior director of corporate finance at Clif Bar.  Bagni is president of Alien Truth Communications and former marketing vice president at Schwinn Cycling & Fitness.)  The company invests in health and active lifestyle businesses, including consumer products and outdoor companies.

Clif Bar is motivated not just by financial return but by a five-pronged philosophy, which is to promote the sustainability of its planet, community, people, business and brands. That same philosophy applies to White Road Investments. Clemens and Bagni are specifically looking to fund companies that are mission-driven and that will have a positive impact on the environment and community. The directors want to work alongside entrepreneurs who are eager to learn, grow and do more good. In particular, they’re interested in investing in new categories and new products. For example, they’ve funded a dehydrated pet food company. Currently popular categories in the health space include gluten-free products, plant-based proteins, raw foods, minimal-ingredient foods and bike businesses in urban markets.

In particular, White Road Investments funds with companies with $1 million to $25 million in revenue, with a particular focus on those in the $2 million to 7 million range. An investment can range from $750,000 to $2 million with $1 million being the sweet spot.

The company’s directors want to get deeply involved in the companies in which they invest, beyond simply a quarterly check-in. Realizing that great businesses may take awhile to succeed, the focus of White Road Investments is longer term than most VC firms. In addition to funds, White Road Investments offers companies its expertise, including marketing, operations, strategy, finance, branding and sales advice, as well as “connective capital,” the ability to provide connections from its directors’ longstanding business relationships. White Road Investments also offers the resources of Clif Bar, including the ability to test new products with Clif Bar consumers, who are usually the perfect target demographic.

What new healthy products do you predict to emerge?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Clemens and Bagni: Episode 95 of The Wendel Forum  (27:30 mins; mp3)

White Road Investments Website: http://www.whiteroadinvestments.com

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

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

In Episode 91 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on March 9, 2013, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Michael Funk.  Funk is a pioneer of the natural foods industry; founder and chairman of United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) and co-founder of Non-GMO project of California (a non-profit organization that educates consumers and builds sources of non-GMO products).

Michael Funk

Michael Funk, founder and chairman of UNFI

Genetic engineering began in the late 1980’s.  While the practice can be beneficial, Funk suggests applying the precautionary principle by which new technologies are proven safe before their widespread circulation. Existing GMO research is largely funded by the biotech industry, which, Funk says, is not independent.  Therefore, he’d favor a moratorium on GMOs in foods until further research has been done about its health and environmental impacts.  Already, there’s an epidemic of “super weeds” that are resistant to herbicides.  As a result, super weeds are, ironically, requiring more and different chemicals to grow foods.

In the meantime, Funk advocates labeling foods with GMOs.  Currently, there’s no federal or state oversight on labeling, a practice that can be tricky because although it’s easy to identify a genetically modified ear of corn, tracking down the origin of micro ingredients such as corn starch or corn syrup in another product is challenging.  The Non-GMO Project has developed a consumer shopping app that verifies GMO status of more than 9,000 products.

Nearly 50 countries – including the EU, Russia and China – already have mandatory GMO labeling.  In the US, intense lobbying by the biotech industry (outspending labeling advocates 10 to 1) has prevented labeling laws.  Studies show that once GMOs are noted on a food label, consumers chose not to buy it.

What do you think about GMO labeling?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Funk: Episode 91 of The Wendel Forum (27:50 mins; mp3)

United Natural Foods Web Page: https://www.unfi.com/Pages/default.aspx

Non-GMO Project: http://www.nongmoproject.org

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

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

In Episode 87 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on December 15, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Carla Din, director of East Bay Green Corridor, a nine-city partnership devoted to assisting green businesses, and Dr. Monika Weiss and Wolfgang Weiss,  CSO and CEO/CTO, respectively, of ergSol, an Oakland solar thermal company.

Photo of Carla Din, director of East Bay Green Corridor

Carla Din, director of East Bay Green Corridor, in studio

East Bay Green Corridor was founded in 2007 to advance a green energy economy in nine East Bay Area cities, including Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville.  The organization develops policy and also markets and promotes clean energy start-ups with the goal of keeping those businesses in the East Bay. Unlike traditional accelerators, which focus on start-ups’ business plans and capital, East Bay Green Corridor introduces companies to its vast network of local supply chains, customers and resources, including several academic institutions and programs (such as the Cleantech to Market program at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business).  Already, it has worked with Alphabet Energy, which captures waste heat, Imprint Energy, which pioneers zinc-based rechargeable batteries, and Lucid Design Group, a cleantech software company.

photo of Dr. Monika Weiss and Wolfgang Weiss of ergSol

Dr. Monika Weiss and Wolfgang Weiss of ergSol

Din met Monika Weiss at a conference and since then East Bay Green Corridor has been facilitating relationships for ergSol, a developer and manufacturer of high temperature solar thermal systems based in Oakland.  Since the Weisses moved to the US 12 years ago, they’ve seen an increase in activity and interest in renewable energy.  With ergSol, a solar thermal system that can also be used for cooling as well as heating, they hope to bring US solar use up to the level of Europe.

How has relationship-building assisted your business?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Din and the ergSol executives: Episode 87 of The Wendel Forum (27:44 mins; mp3)

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

East Bay Green Corridor Website: http://www.ebgreencorridor.org

ergSol Website: http://ergsol.com

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

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