Venture Capital Meets Slow Money at Investors’ Circle Conference

snail2.jpgFast money and fast movers. These are the phrases that come to mind when entrepreneurs talk about venture capital as a potential source of funding. But what if the flow of funds slowed down…way down?

The Next Generation of Sustainable Capital

The Investors’ Circle spring conference attempted to answer that question during a lively breakout session entitled “Slow Money: New Strategies for Investing in Local Food Systems.” Attended by reps from next generation investors such as SJF Ventures, Transformative Capital, and Renewal Partners, the conference blended a business pitch competition, philosophical discussions, an entrepreneur showcase, and community education in an effort to jump start the transition to a sustainable economy. Ecopreneurist writers were out in full force at the conference, with Leah Edwards blogging the “Is Organic the Next Clean Tech?” breakout session and joining in the networking events.

Slow Money: New Strategies for Investing in Local Food Systems

As part of the larger Slow Movement sweeping the cultures of food, travel, cities, and schools, Slow Money proponents seek investments and returns at the pace of sustainable business development. Slow Money panelist Greg Steltenpohl, former CEO of Odwalla and self-confessed “fast money sinner testifying before you,” advocated for the creation of new metaphors for economic growth. In the Slow Money movement, organic phrases replace academic terminology and new financial vehicles arise to form the “compost of the slow money economy.” Investors’ Circle chairman Woody Tasch expressed this transition as a study in contrasts between old and new ways of thinking:

  • Extraction vs. Restoration
  • Transactions vs. Relationships
  • Linear vs. Cyclical
  • Taking Out vs. Leaving In
  • Consumption vs. Restoration

Redefining Return on Investment

When does the expectation of a 20% return on investment transition from being from lucrative to being exploitative? This was the most provocative question raised in the breakout session, and one that generated healthy discussion. Traditionally, venture capital-funded investments expect a 20% ROI before they are deemed successful. Framed in terms of an organic farm startup or community-based enterprise, the panelists challenged the logic of extracting such significant amounts of capital from the local economy. What if 5-14% returns became the norm in exchange for the preservation and restoration of equally vital, yet often overlooked, forms of capital such as healthy ecosystems, fertile soil, thriving communities, and abundant natural resources? These challenging questions beg a fundamental re-examination of our concepts of wealth, investment, and growth as we start down the path towards a slow and sustainable economy.

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Image credit: Per Ola Wiberg at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

About the Author

Julie is a Sustainable Management MBA student at the Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. As a design and communications consultant, she works through the lenses of design, media and the natural sciences to serve up business strategy within the sustainability, technology, and nonprofit sectors. In an effort to understand how everything works, Julie has traveled widely across five continents and held jobs ranging from graphic designer to infectious disease researcher. Her interests include social trends, geospatial applications, emerging technology, and how things are made.
  • Hi there,

    I love the article.

    I know there are different investor’s interested in investing on sustainable initiatives with multiple bottom line busines models, but I really do not know how to find them.

    I’m the founder and CEO of GustOrganics, the first certified organic restaurant in New York, the first restaurant in the country to use 100% USDA certified organic ingredients, and one of the greenest restaurants in the world, etc, etc..

    Please check (to see how much can be changed with a simply meal)

    We became profitable after 10 months of operation in the worse economic crisis in the last 75 years, and I can not find investors that are really interested in this kind of investments.

    When I first started I tried The Investor’s Circle way through their website, but the process was for me so impersonal that did not work.

    If you know how to get in touch with slow money investors, I would really appreciate your help.

    Best regards,
    Alberto Gonzalez
    646 772 4205

  • Create local money that’s more powerful than national currency so that communities are empowered to reclaim control of their destinies:


  • I sympathize with Alberto Gonzalez. I have the same problem in a different field. I have developed a vessel that is based on traditional hull forms that were used during the time of sail and hand power. Fuel efficiency compared to many vessels built after WWII is one third or even less. Admittedly these vessels do not travel as fast as their modern counter parts, although there are exceptions, speed is not necessarily as high a priority as one might think in many situations. Inshore fisheries where distance to productive grounds are close is one example of many. On the other hand the fuel savings alone can mean the difference between a profitable day with a third of the product or traveling much further to better grounds only to give money to the oil companies.
    The problem is how to reach the right people with the information and technology that is available to help them and convince them of the viability. I have built a number of prototypes but out reach is limited.