Locally grown entrepreneurship: Lake Geneva man finalist in contest
LAKE GENEVA Ryan Dover is an entrepreneur.
Ed Jaeger is a farmer.
Here’s what they have in common: Both are passionate about connecting customers to locally-grown food and supporting the farmers who grow it.
Dover’s conversations with Jaeger about the challenges of growing and marketing quality food lead him to develop an online business that is now one of the finalists for the eighth annual “Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.”
Dover is among 220 contestants from 15 Wisconsin cities and so far has survived two rounds of judging organized through the Wisconsin Technology Council, which runs the contest in conjunction with the Wisconsin Innovation Network and the Wisconsin Angel Network.
The first prize for the contest is $50,000 in cash and services, and the prize winners will be announced in June at the Wisconsin Entrepreneur’s Conference in Milwaukee.
Dover’s business, LocalGrown, is a website that would connect consumers and farmers.
“LocalGrown is there to help the farmer, to help local food systems,” Dover said. “We need more transparency about how our food is raised.”
Words such as “organic”, “natural”, “free-range” are now tossed around as marketing slogans. Does “free-range” mean chickens are allowed two square feet of space? Or does it mean they’re allowed to the run of the barnyard?
Does “organic” mean “we use as few chemicals as necessary” or does it mean, “We use chemicals that are labeled organic?”
“Those definitions have become somewhat corrupted,” Dover said ruefully.
LocalGrown would allow consumers to search for vegetables, fruit, honey, mean, eggs and other locally grown or raised products. Consumers also would be able to use search terms such as “hormone-free” or “antibiotic-free.”
At its most basic level, the site would allow farmers to market their goods and describe their farming practices.
The next level of service would allow farmers to make sales online and be a part of a marketing and sales cooperative that would help them reach new customers.
Dover anticipates charging $25 per month or $250 a year.
If enough farmers became a part of the cooperative, it could offer services such as life or health insurance.
The idea came from Dover’s conversations with his farmer friend, Jaeger.
Like most farmers, Jaeger enjoys the work involved in planting and raising his crops and animals.
But most farmers aren’t crazy about marketing. Nor do they enjoy explaining to people why antibiotic-free, hormone-free chickens who are being fed GMO-free feed are more expensive per pound than the chicken sold at Walmart.
Dover hopes to use his marketing skills find new, institutional, customers for the farmers in the co-op.
“I want to reach out to school systems, restaurants and businesses,” Dover said. “This is really about sustaining farmers.”