As we get ready to kick off ImpactSKU ’21, I want to talk about the importance of the program to SKU’s mission and its special place in the CPG industry in the Twin Cities and beyond.
Growing up in the Minneapolis area, I knew there were a number of large CPG powerhouses, including General Mills, Land ‘O Lakes and Target. But it wasn’t until I moved to Austin that I grew to appreciate the importance of networking and support – things that create the ideal environment for consumer product entrepreneurs.
As a CPG accelerator, SKU has been a catalyst for entrepreneurial growth, bringing together all the key players in town that startups need in order to grow. That includes investors, retailers and service providers – from branding experts to co-packers.
It also meant cultivating a community of experienced CPG leaders who can share their expertise and experiences with founders. When you bring together mentors like Matt O’Hayer, co-founder of Vital Farms, and Scott Jensen, co-founder of Stubb’s BBQ and Rhythm Superfoods, it creates the ideal ecosystem to build successful startups. And these companies give rise to other startups.
While the Twin Cities has been home to large CPGs for decades, the startup community is just coming into its own. That’s why Pete Speranza, formerly of General Mills’ 301 Inc., and Nik Larsen and Chad Hetherington from The Stable recruited SKU to expand into the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. They were committed to building the network needed to support emerging brands.
While many of the companies that go through SKU are mission based, we wanted the Twin Cities accelerator to focus exclusively on brands that have woven social impact into their business model. We wanted to use the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals, and 5 P’s (People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnerships), to help us select the ideal purpose-driven startups for the program.
Expanding into a new city requires the right partner – people with solid relationships who understand the startup community and can be boots on the ground. We found the perfect partner in Connie Rutledge, CEO at FINNOVATION Lab. As one of Minnesota’s longest-running social enterprises, FINNEGAN’s Brew Co. launched FINNOVATION Lab in 2017 to empower and support professionals and entrepreneurs who use their business to address environmental, economic, and social issues. Learn more at www.finn-lab.com.
With all the pieces in place, Impact SKU was born
Challenges and Opportunities
But as we all know, 2020 had some unexpected challenges (that’s an understatement!). COVID prompted ImpactSKU to pivot to an 8-week virtual Preview program. Despite the shorter format, the ImpactSKU Preview was packed with great programming and mentorship. And we got nine amazing companies – Coconut Whisk, Dog Threads, Hippy Feet, Humble Nut Butter, K-Mama Sauce, Let’s Dish, Mostly Made, Panache Apple and Twiggy Fresh.
Talking to the ImpactSKU Preview alumni valideated the need for our program.
“ImpactSKU essentially fast-forwarded my growth as an entrepreneur. Between the program curriculum and the mentorship available, I was able to learn more in a few weeks that I would have in a year independently. ImpactSKU is part of the reason we were able to put up such a strong year of growth,” said Sam Harper, founder of Hippy Feet, which donates the proceeds of every sale to providing employment for homeless youth.
The ImpactSKU Preview laid the groundwork for ImpactSKU ’21, which kicks off June 1st. It will be the full 12-week program, offering best-in-class curriculum taught by the nation’s top CPG industry leaders on topics ranging from channel strategy to fundraising. It also will offer the top-notch mentoring that SKU is known for, with founders are surrounded by a mentors specially selected team of experts to meet to meet their needs.
We are thrilled at the network we are building in the Twin Cities and excited to for ImpactSKU ’21.
If you are founder, CPG leader or service provider who wants to reach the CPG community, we invite you to attend one of our upcoming info sessions for potential companies, mentors and sponsors for the cohort:
Upcoming Info Sessions
Company Info Session, 10:30-11:30 CT March 12th:
Mentor Info Session: Mentor Info Session, 12-noon CT March 12th:
Company Info Session: 12-1 p.m. CT March 24th:
Mentor Info Session, 12-noon PM CT April 7: