CHICAGO and LOS ANGELES — Supply Change Capital invests in early-stage businesses modernizing the food system. Founded by managing partners Shayna Harris and Noramay Cadena, the fund seeks to support diverse entrepreneurs operating at the intersection of food, culture and technology.
“Multicultural founders are underrepresented in today’s food system, despite having the fastest growing demographic in America,” Ms. Harris said. “Latinx, Black and Asian consumers are significantly more likely to reach for natural and organic foods. Their purchasing behavior is not only on trend, but it surpasses that of white Americans. However, the overwhelming majority of food brands are not founded or owned by entrepreneurs that match the consumer demographic.”
Ms. Harris and Ms. Cadena met more than a decade ago attending business school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prior to launching the fund, Ms. Harris held leadership roles at fresh vending machine company Farmer’s Fridge. Previously she was global lead for sourcing and impact of cocoa and chocolate at Mars, Inc. Ms. Cadena was co-founder and managing partner at MiLA Capital, a venture capital firm investing in technology. She also leads investments for Portfolia’s Rising America Fund, supporting Latinx, Black and LGBTQIA founders. A mechanical and systems engineer, she previously worked in the aerospace industry and co-founded the national non-profit Latinas in STEM Foundation.
To date, Supply Change has invested in two companies. In June, the fund participated in a seed round for Chicago-based Ayo Foods, a brand of West African food, featuring flavors and ingredients such as egusi melon seeds and cassava and sorghum leaves. The startup offers frozen meals and recently launched a line of shelf-stable sauces. Cleveland Avenue, a venture capital fund established by former McDonald’s leader Don Thompson, led Ayo Foods’ seed round.
“While we had a unique business idea, and solid professional experiences in the food space, capital had the potential to be a barrier to our success,” said Perteet Spencer, co-founder of Ayo Foods. “Supply Change Capital’s commitment to partnering with under-resourced founders like Ayo will enable the total market to benefit from more disruptive innovation.”
In July, Supply Change invested in Culinary Flo, a food e-commerce and logistics platform empowering foodservice operators to market and sell menu items online. Founded by former Snap Kitchen chief executive Jon Carter, the startup aspires to become “the Shopify of perishable food” for the restaurant industry, helping business owners scale while reducing waste and optimizing margins.
The managing partners of Supply Change provide not only capital but also community and operational expertise. One percent of the fund is directed toward supporting founders through leadership coaching, mental health and diversity and inclusion initiatives.
“What we’ve learned through both building early-stage companies and investing in them over the last six years is that founder burnout, coupled with undervalued time building culture and leadership skills, can hinder growth and talent acquisition and retention,” Ms. Cadena said. “We are partnering with an executive coaching firm to develop a proprietary approach to portfolio support.”
Less than 3% of venture funding last year supported founders of color, and yet buying power is accelerating in diverse populations. Investing in diverse founders in food and food technology is an overlooked opportunity with high returns, said Ms. Cadena and Ms. Harris.
“We envision the ‘New American Table,’ where the mix of founders creating businesses and getting funded to accelerate their growth matches the diversity of our country,” Ms. Harris said.
Ms. Cadena added, “Supply Change Capital believes in a future that is sustainability mindful, supply chain efficient, better for you and culture rich.”