New Hirshberg Institute event offers myriad opportunities for entrepreneursNew Hirshberg Institute event offers myriad opportunities for entrepreneurs
The Hirshberg Entrepreneurship Institute's three-day, in-person event gives natural products founders insights on financing, chances to network and clues for success.
April 4, 2023
Entrepreneurs, including those in the natural products sector, face "an unusually turbulent time," says Gary Hirshberg, CEO of the Hirshberg Entrepreneurship Institute and co-founder of organic yogurt Stonyfield Farm.
Yet, despite the macroeconomic challenges in front of business people, "I think there's a lot of reasons for hope," Hirshberg says.
"The industry is back open for business, everyone's just got to be careful and cautious and perhaps as focused on cash efficiency and profitability as growth—whereas in the past, it's all been growth, growth, growth."
Indeed, that constitutes just one of the messages attendees at the upcoming annual HEI conference in Boulder, Colorado, can expect to hear—and act on—during the three-day event. This year's in-person HEI, running May 1-3, features an agenda replete with opportunities for entrepreneurs to best navigate uncertainty:
A new consumer insights report ("worth over $5,000," Hirshberg says) and one-hour presentation with Q&A from Nielsen IQ.
Guidance for doubling down on cash-flow forecasting to avoid expensive errors.
A deep-dive look at alternative financing strategies.
Candid post-mortems on several failed enterprises.
An assessment of current retail and buying conditions at the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association and National Co+op Grocers, presented by senior merchandisers and two retailers.
A "How I Built This" confessional with Nutpods founder Madeline Haydon.
A first-ever chance for eight attendees to publicly pitch the Sprouts purchasing team.
The chance for seven companies to make funding pitches to HEI's investor cohort.
'Bringing people together'
These sessions and more will take place in person for the first time since 2019, the year before the pandemic forced gatherings onto virtual platforms. The ability to once again meet face-to-face comes not a moment too soon as entrepreneurs deal with COVID-19 fallout, including more difficulty securing financing and surmounting supply-chain hiccups.
"We've been doing this for 25 years but I don't think I've ever seen a period as complicated as this one," Hirshberg says.
"What I'm most excited about is bringing people together with common interests, common problems to solve, and a common need for both solutions but also to not feel so alone," he says. "Probably the greatest thing that HEI does is pulls people together in a community to help hear and solve and invent solutions for different times."
Stephen Cowan, founder of Beyond Microgreens, which makes teas and boosters, agrees. Cowan pitched his year-old company at the virtual version of HEI in 2022 and received feedback from natural products veterans—an experience he says was invaluable.
"I got a major ego check, which was useful and helpful," he says. "That was good medicine for me and the business." Cowan learned how to better target his messaging and simplify operations, and he continues to act on the advice given to him.
Some of this year's attendees will receive the same opportunity. For Hirshberg, that's exactly the kind of outcome he intends to foster at HEI. Whether an attendee ends up pitching or presenting—or not—he recommends taking extensive notes.
"You're going to come away with lightning-bolt ideas that you can put to work," he says.
Furthermore, entrepreneurs taking part in this year's HEI can look forward to capitalizing on everything they learn and people they meet.
"So much of HEI happens off-agenda," Hirshberg says. "We've had mergers, we've even had one marriage result. I would be shocked if any attendee does not take away at least a dozen great leads and contacts."
To apply to be a featured case study, pitch to investors or pitch to the Sprouts Farmers Market purchasing team, entrepreneurs must be registered guests—either in-person or virtual—of the Institute. The deadline to apply to pitch to investors or to the Sprouts team is April 13. For ticket prices, a complete agenda, registration and other information, visit the HEI Boulder 2023 page.
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