Wisconsin accelerator with national reach takes food businesses to the next level

As the fifth annual FaBcap Accelerator unfolds within the UW System’s Food Finance Institute, or FFI, the 2021 cohort includes a familiar face: Christine Ameigh of Christine’s Kitchens and Slide Gourmet Potato Chips. FaBcap is the state’s only food and beverage accelerator, and Ameigh owns the only Madison business among the 10 Wisconsin companies accepted into the nine-month program this year. Ameigh is known not only for her entrepreneurial hustle, but also for bringing other food entrepreneurs with her. That collaboration is crucial now as businesses struggle to survive, but FFI hopes to help them thrive.

“Christine is such a strong innovator and advocate, not only for herself but for other businesses,” says FFI Program Manager Sarah Larson. “We really think about not only the individual growth of each business, but how they’ll be able to support and help each other.”

FaBcap has shepherded an impressive 40 Wisconsin companies (including Nutkrack, Forage Kombucha, Potter’s Crackers and MobCraft) through the process of attracting $682,176 in grant funding, $7,356,127 in debt funding, $8,712,112 in equity funding and annual sales of $29,684,566. The accelerator taps companies that are poised to scale, then harnesses the expertise and connections of FFI and its partner, Milwaukee’s FaB Wisconsin, with backing from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and the U.S. Small Business Association. Each “graduate” gets $10,000 to jump-start that growth.

“We have such a hotbed of innovation here, but there’s a difference in working with a food business,” says Larson, who was the first employee at a company called Tera’s Whey, which is really where this story begins.

Tera’s Whey was founded in 2007 by another entrepreneurial powerhouse, Tera Johnson. Johnson started turning whey from Wisconsin dairy farms into a nutritional supplement; four years later, she sold Tera’s Whey to Omega Protein for $26 million. Johnson knew her story was a rarity for food businesses, which typically don’t produce enough cash flow to fund growth, but she wanted to change that. She created FFI within the UW System in 2013 to provide financial and technical assistance to any food, beverage and value-added farm enterprise. In addition to FaBcap (first developed at FaB Wisconsin with current accelerator director Brad Rostowfske), FFI offers a suite of programs and digital resources, including the Scaler Series, which makes the accelerator curriculum available to noncohorts (minus the mentorship and the $10,000).

“I’m not aware of another program like this. The people running the program all have phenomenal experience in the food world,” says Ameigh, whose Slide story began when the Madison East High School alumna came home after nearly a decade in California to start her own food truck selling hand-cut potato chips. Madison had only 50 food trucks, mostly on Library Mall or at farmers’ markets. Ameigh bought a snowmobile trailer and leaned on friends like John Handley of FIB’S food cart and Banzo owners Netalee Sheinman and Aaron Collins to figure it out as she went. She partnered with Rocky So of SoHo Gourmet Cuisines to organize the now-defunct Let’s Eat Out neighborhood food truck nights, and by 2016 Madison’s food cart numbers had doubled. By then Ameigh had moved into a commercial space on East Washington Avenue, leased out the front to other food vendors and created Christine’s Kitchens. All the while she was catering events and growing Slide Chips, which had just gotten a Miller Park contract when COVID-19 hit.

To unload all that fresh product, Ameigh started home deliveries — which quickly evolved into partnering with Madison Eats Food Tours, FEED Kitchens and the city’s MarketReady program to organize deliveries for more than 60 small businesses hit hard by the pandemic. Now, with her acceptance into the FaBcap cohort, Ameigh hopes to return her full attention to scaling Slide Chips.

“I feel like there is a great opportunity for investing in food businesses,” she says, “and there’s not enough of that.”

Maggie Ginsberg, Madison Magazine

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