Business Development in the Ohio Local Food Systems Collaborative

This is the first in a series of postings to the Ohio Local Food Systems Collaborative (OLFSC) about starting and sustaining a business in local food systems. These postings have several not so ordinary characteristics:

  • They are about real business opportunities in real neighborhoods
  • The process of developing these opportunities and the resulting content are shared openly on the OLFSC website
  • They invite OLFSC readers to comment, critique, and challenge assumptions and extrapolations posted in order to make the outcome better for all
  • They encourage OLFSC readers to generate ideas and develop plans for businesses they eventually setup in their local areas

Before heading into the business opportunities, clarification of business concepts and terminology is in order…

A Firm Foundation and Ongoing Adaptation

The purpose of any business is to deliver value to the customer. The primary objective of a business is to make profit. In terms of value, this means the amount the customer pays for value delivered (revenue) surpasses the amount invested by the business to provide that value (capital and operating expenses). The ultimate goal of a business is sustainability over the long-term. Again, from a value standpoint, a business is sustained when a sufficient percentage of the profit is reinvested to continue to develop and deliver what is deemed of value by customers so that they continue to pay for it.

What is of value to the customer (idea generation)? How does one deliver that value profitably and in a sustainable manner (business planning)? These are the primary questions addressed at the outset of an entrepreneurial effort. Idea generation and business planning combine vision of a preferred future with a framework for action that brings that vision into reality. These two, working in concert with one another, provide the firm foundation upon which all successful businesses are launched.

Delivery of demonstrated value to the customer requires taking action according to the business plan (business plan execution). Of course, changes in conditions and unforeseen circumstances during the delivery cycle warrant a certain degree of flexibility in executing the plan as it is put into play (adaptation). The capacity to sense and respond, learn and adapt is the hallmark of a business that survives start-up and embarks on sustainability.

The main points outlined above equate to key steps in establishing a successful business:

  • Generate ideas
  • Develop a business plan
  • Execute the plan
  • Adapt plan to “lessons learned” during execution

These four link vision with problem-solving to deliver demonstrated value to the customer. Because of the significance of the dialectic between vision and problem-solving in business success, future postings in this series will delve more deeply into the working relationship between the two. And in keeping with the commitment made in the opening statement of this posting, the focus of the upcoming OLFSC postings will be “real business opportunities in real neighborhoods”.

Originally posted to Local Food Systems by Steve Bosserman on Wednesday, May 28, 2008 10:30

Oil Addiction and the Business Case for Change

One responsibility that comes from communicating with readers through media such as blogs is to define terms as they are going to be used in various postings and follow-up by consistent usage of those terms according to their stated definitions. In this instance, three terms are offered for consideration in this and related postings about business opportunities: business case, business model, and business plan.

Wikipedia defines “business case” in the context of an existing business wherein certain changes are being considered. While this is certainly a useful construct in project management practices, it need not be limited solely to that purview. It is also a valuable tool for entrepreneurs to draw upon when determining start-up possibilities or expanding an existing business far beyond the boundaries and scope of its original charter.

Business cases lead to “business models.” A business model is the approach a business intends follow in order to generate revenue, control expenditures, and make a profit. More than one business model is possible in response to strong business cases. The challenge is crafting and adopting an appropriate business model that leads to a successful business within a given set of circumstances. It is a bit like playing chess and determining the opening one is going to use based on personality and temperament as much as intellect, skill, and experience. Determining and applying business models in response to business cases spawns creative experimentation that typifies entrepreneurial efforts.

A “business plan” covers comprehensive information, in-depth analysis, and detailed description about how practical application of the business model is accomplished successfully over time. Putting a business plan together demands that one think past overly optimistic assumptions about revenues and underestimates of capitalization costs and operating expenses. This exercise brings a critical level of discipline to choosing a business model. And if support from others is required to get the business going, a business plan is an excellent communication medium through which one’s attention to detail and exercise of due diligence is documented.

An earlier posting, “Addicted to Oil,” points out that such a level of dependence drives concern for quantity and quality of the addictive agent and consequences of use for the addict and the social systems that support the addict. It also turns up the heat in the addict’s thinking to consider the possibility of not succumbing to the powers of the addictive agent and choosing an alternative path of recovery. The foundation for an addict’s travels to a clean and sober life is a totally different structure and behavior than the basis for the one that supported the addiction. It requires significant sustained commitment to move from the addictive structure to the clean and sober structure. And there are many bumps in the road that test commitment and resolve. This is an act not to be taken lightly.

Recovery from oil addiction entails securing energy from renewable sources rather than fossil fuels. This is a costly route to take since the current global system is setup to generate, deliver, and consume energy from fossil fuels, not renewable sources. To make the switch requires a considerable investment of time, money, and talent to develop and apply the technologies that will make renewable energy system feasible. Such investment will not happen without the assurance that there is a business case for doing so.

Making the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources requires a business case based on irrefutable evidence that not doing so will result in highly undesirable consequences. In recovery, the addict must “reach bottom” before beginning the long ascent out of the dark pit. With oil addiction that point is reached when the realization that to continue unchecked is simply an untenable position. In other words a “tipping point” is reached from which there is no turning back.

In a December 22, The New York Times 1 editorial by Thomas Friedman entitled “And the Color of the Year Is…,” he writes:

We reached a tipping point this year — where living, acting, designing, investing and manufacturing green came to be understood by a critical mass of citizens, entrepreneurs and officials as the most patriotic, capitalistic, geopolitical, healthy and competitive thing they could do. Hence my own motto: ‘Green is the new red, white and blue.’

It appears that in the minds of some the point of no return from black to green has passed. Regardless of how far beyond this point we are, it is safe to conclude that business opportunities in the renewable energy sector and the proliferation of business models and plans they spawn are nigh. We are taking first, but strong steps out of the black hole of addiction along the green path of recovery. And this growth in business possibilities will not remain within the realm of the energy sector alone. Due to the tightly woven interconnections among them, the fuel, food, feed, floriculture, and fiber industries as a whole will be transformed. A budding renaissance for agriculture is in the making. Stay tuned for more!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Friday, December 29, 2006

  1. Original posting to the Stop Global Warming website is no longer available online