Original published in the Huffington Post’s “Impact” Blog
Chris Bailey sees food not just as nourishment, but as a storytelling tool. A couple of years ago, he started Proxy Foods in Portland, OR. “My Company examines how we interact with a meal, an ingredient, an aroma,” Chris explains. Chris is dedicated to crafting unique food experiences. His first creation was Para Llevar, a mobile cart that serves Posole. This rustic Mexican stew invites people to actively participate in dining by adding ingredients and garnishes to a flavorful base.
Chris had no illusions about the challenges of starting a company, and said, “I have many business ideas, but in the beginning didn’t know how to handle the logistics of a startup company.” Ever resourceful, Chris drew extensively on local business classes, and sought out a mentor. On MicroMentor, an online service that connects small business owners with mentors, Chris met a local lawyer, Matthew Abts.
“Matthew provided me with easy-to-understand advice for every long-winded question, and has quelled concerns to get my business off the ground.” Since meeting Matthew, Chris expanded beyond mobile soup, and started a communal dinner series. “I see my early efforts as a springboard to the larger goal of providing alternatives to the traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant.”
His next goal is to package Para Llevar for distribution in specialty grocery stores. For this, he needs capital to pay for recipe development and shelf stability tests. Matthew would connect Chris to capital if he could; however, the reality is that banks are not likely to lend to a business as small and young as Proxy Foods. In 2010 alone, major U.S. banks turned down roughly 1 million applications for small business financing. This is why MicroMentor is so excited about a new partnership with Kiva Zip. Having facilitated $450 million in microloans to business owners in developing nations, Kiva is piloting a direct lending tool in the United States. Instead of relying on traditional underwriting, Kiva Zip is bringing back character-based lending, calling on members of the community to vouch for and lend to small business owners.
This became the perfect opportunity for Matthew to make his mentorship go even further. Having already provided critical advice, he could now help Chris get the funds he needs to realize the next evolution of his business. Matthew says, “Chris is a lean entrepreneur with the right chops to pull off a food business, and will produce jobs in the community.”
Mentorship and flexible financing are two critical resources too-often missing for small businesses. If more business owners have access to the right advice and needed funds, it creates a ripple effect of local commerce, hiring, and prosperity.