A new social media platform based in West Michigan is not for entertainment, but for building a network that could lead to early-stage investments.
Battle Creek-based food and beverage innovation and commercialization group JPG Resources — in partnership with Lincolnshire, Illinois-based consumer packaged goods industry advisory firm The Movitz Group and Scottsdale, Arizona-based natural foods investment office The Litchfield Fund — in May launched Brandjectory, a Battle Creek-based platform that connects early-stage food and beverage companies with potential investors.
The virtual hub, at brandjectorynow.com, is designed to enable emerging food and beverage and other natural products brands, and accredited investors interested in the space, to easily build relationships and have meaningful conversations before, during and after a capital raise via public posts or private messages and video meetings.
Its founders include Jeff Grogg, managing director of JPG Resources; Michael Movitz, founder and managing partner at The Movitz Group; and husband-and-wife team Tom Malengo and Susan Bryenton, partner and chief business officer and partner and chief marketing product officer, respectively, who co-founded The Litchfield Fund.
“Brandjectory facilitates discovery, connection, communication and information exchange between brands and investors,” Movitz said. “They can build a relationship and stay updated in real time. Brandjectory allows brands to tell their story as they grow, and for investors to learn about all aspects of a brand before engaging in more direct dialogue.”
For two years prior to its launch, the partners were working to alleviate the challenges that investors and brands in the natural products space share in finding each other and communicating updates, particularly beyond traditional in-person meetings and trade shows.
“We saw the costs that are involved for the brands to travel to events, to try to meet up with investors, to continually do cold call reach-outs through email, maybe LinkedIn, and we also saw that they didn’t have a tool for that. They used social media to communicate to consumers — so if you’re on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter, the brands are reaching out and talking about their products — but they’re not reaching out to investors through social media, and on LinkedIn, they’re usually working at trying to find things that help their network, like a distributor or a branding agent or someone to help them with marketing or a salesperson in a specific area. They’re trying to use their network to establish those connections,” Malengo said.
“We thought about all that time and effort and the length of time — this can be anywhere from, at the short end, maybe two or three years to find the right types of investors, to maybe four to five or six years to really grow a business to $10 million. And we said, can’t we use social media to do that? Can’t we, when we build that social media platform, integrate the tools that will help a brand understand how they have to work with, communicate with (and) present themselves to investors? And that is what Brandjectory is. It’s that tool, that platform, that allows those relationships to be built and give the brand the background information, knowledge (and) tools to present themselves as best as they can.”
Brandjectory was in beta testing with brands including Toasted Oat Bakehouse, Petit Pot, Square Baby and Tea Squares, and investors including 2X Consumer Growth Partners and The Angel Group, leading up to its launch in May.
Since then, Brandjectory has been endorsed by numerous natural products and food industry players, including Bob Burke, with Natural Products Consulting; Emerge by FMI; TIG; and FoodBytes. Additional investors have joined the platform, such as Boulder Food Group, Powerplant Ventures, Gather Venture Group and B&A.
Currently, Brandjectory has about 140 users, 80% of which are brands and 20% of which are investors.
The service is subscription-based, at $349 a year for brands and $529 a year for investors. The partners said they believe these thresholds are fair, given the significant upfront fees and percentages crowdfunding platforms typically take from startups’ fundraisers, and they also think these pricing tiers will be helpful in weeding out “harebrained ideas” and making sure the platform is curating brands that are “real” and serious about their business and who will use it to make meaningful industry connections.
On the investor side, Malengo said the subscription threshold is meant to ensure the site attracts “sophisticated” firms that don’t just invest in whatever comes along, but that make targeted investments in natural product startups.
Malengo added: “To ensure the platform focuses solely on relationship building and discovery rather than crowdfunding or other monetary investment, all deals take place outside of Brandjectory.”
In response to current events related to COVID-19 and the community’s “heightened need for efficient and effective interaction,” Brandjectory launched the platform with a 60-day free trial, which continues to this day. Malengo said the site probably will always offer a similar sign-on deal to attract brands that are just starting and need a leg up.
“We are incredibly passionate about nurturing the growth of our industry and facilitating investment when early-stage brands need it most,” Grogg said. “I look forward to seeing the relationships — and results — Brandjectory will foster as its community and members grow.”
Malengo and Glenn Pappalardo, business partner, strategy and new initiatives of Brandjectory, said Brandjectory is still in somewhat of a quiet phase in its first few months but is hoping to gradually gain traction and eventually add other service organizations that could help brands, besides just the investors.
“Anything that we can do to help democratize the process, we want to take advantage of that and put that out there into the industry to make it hopefully a healthier, stronger industry for years to come,” Pappalardo said.
“(We want) these people to at least have a fighting chance to see their dream or their brand come to fruition and not lose out simply because they couldn’t find somebody, or they couldn’t connect with them properly. If they’re going to fail, there are other reasons they can fail; there’s plenty of them. But let’s get rid of some of the systemic, structural ones that are unfair, like, you didn’t happen to live in Boulder or Austin, or you weren’t at the right show at the right time. Technology is leveling the playing field in so many places, and this was one that, frankly, probably should have leveled a long time ago.”
Brandjectory recently won the Entrepreneur NEXT contest aimed at helping entrepreneurs start a business or grow an existing venture. Out of thousands of applicants, Brandjectory was selected as the winner based on its “clarity of purpose, strength of entrepreneurial DNA and demonstrated ability to think differently about a problem,” Brandjectory said. As the winner, Brandjectory will now receive guidance and support from Entrepreneur NEXT as it launches and scales.
More information about the platform is at brandjectorynow.com/about-us.