Four Sigmatic mushroom coffee

The 'who' is just as important as the 'what' when investing in a food startup

AccelFoods managing partners share what they've learned from working with mushroom company Four Sigmatic and, particularly, its founder Tero Isokauppila.

Food and beverage is the new tech. You may have noticed the influx of high-quality talent in the packaged food and beverage space. This new generation of entrepreneurs is following the lead of their tech-focused counterparts, pooling talent behind innovative ideas and aggressively working to bring them to fruition.

At AccelFoods, we've watched the growth of this trend and its impact on the 20+ brands we've invested in over the last 24 months. With each new addition to the portfolio we are reminded that successful brands start with the quality of the founders, not just the quality of the products.

A great example of a founder-driven investment is Four Sigmatic (formerly Four Sigma Foods). Founded by powerhouse Finnish entrepreneur, Tero Isokauppila, Four Sigmatic seeks to popularize the consumption of mushrooms, an ancient superfood, in natural products. After achieving considerable success abroad, Tero came to AccelFoods with a vision for a launch in the U.S.

Tero has high expectations for everyone on his team and, as such, he expected more than an analysis of the business's needs from AccelFoods. From the start, our partnership with Tero's team was centered on open communication—sharing ideas, talking through challenges, and collectively evaluating opportunities. We understood that if our partnership was going to be successful, we were going to have to trust Tero's instincts and his vision. He forced our team to think "bigger" and more holistically about his business. Here are a few key learnings from our experience:

Your vision is more than your product. One of our greatest learnings from working with Tero and Four Sigmatic was that a strong vision for a product should be accompanied by an equally strong vision for a company and its growth. Tero insisted that his company's culture be considered during any hiring decision. He wanted to build an employee-focused culture, where core members had a strong voice and an unwavering commitment to the consumer. This lesson has been adopted by AccelFoods, both for our internal team and for those of our portfolio brands.

Ensure everyone, big and small, is aligned on goals. Structure and organization are core tenets of Four Sigmatic. We worked with Tero to develop a set of shared goals and deadlines for his team and ours. He identified strategic projects, committed to core objectives and milestones and met all deadlines set.

Tero was especially unwilling to sacrifice this ethos during Four Sigmatic's rebranding. He wanted to simplify the brand's unique story and it needed to happen relatively quickly. Together, we collected consumer insights to identify the core questions the brand needed to answer. We set the priorities and Tero worked with his team to address these challenges independently. From start to finish, the project was completed in just eight weeks.

Find partners who understand and believe in your plan. When we partner with a founder, we come in not just as investors, but as key advisors; we're very active and hands-on. Tero was looking for a true partner in his business; he felt strongly that the partnership be built on collaboration, not control. We could not have agreed more. Tero won us over with deep category knowledge, logical decision-making, effective communication, and a compelling long-term vision for growth.

Our experience with Four Sigmatic altered the way we build partnerships with our founders. We expect every founder we invest behind to articulate their own company values, expectations, and needs before we embark on building core business strategies together. Tero's vision stood at the core of our partnership. We are believers.

Jordan Gaspar and Lauren Jupiter are managing partners at AccelFoods, which invests in high growth, early-stage brands in the packaged food and beverage space.

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