2017-04-06 / Business News

Socially conscious investors fund pioneering company

SPECIAL TO FLORIDA WEEKLY


Some of the hot sauces, spices, salsa and barbecue sauces made by students involved in Taste of Immokalee. Products are distributed in stories including Publix and Winn Dixie. 
COURTESY PHOTO Some of the hot sauces, spices, salsa and barbecue sauces made by students involved in Taste of Immokalee. Products are distributed in stories including Publix and Winn Dixie. COURTESY PHOTO Investors are raising $250,000 in capital for Taste of Immokalee, a Florida corporation that is breaking new ground in socially responsible investing.

In a unique partnership between Naples-based Tamiami Angel Funds and the Community Foundation of Collier County, investors in Taste of Immokalee know their investment will benefit underprivileged children in eastern Collier County who are learning to become entrepreneurs.

Launched three years ago by Immokalee High School students, Taste of Immokalee sells hot sauces, spices, salsa and barbecue sauces in stores such as Publix and Winn Dixie. Under the mentorship of Naples business leaders, the students from the socio-economically underserved area learn valuable hands-on business lessons in developing social-media campaigns and merchandising activities at local festivals, schools and retail outlets.


Immokalee High School students Eric Garcia, Christopher Bances and Alfredo Villalobos Perez at a sampling table in one of the retail locations that sells Taste of Immokalee products. 
COURTESY PHOTO Immokalee High School students Eric Garcia, Christopher Bances and Alfredo Villalobos Perez at a sampling table in one of the retail locations that sells Taste of Immokalee products. COURTESY PHOTO Taste of Immokalee is a benefit corporation, a newly permitted Florida corporate structure that lets companies pursue both profits and community benefits. Traditionally, companies either had to register as for-profit or not-for- profit, but the state approved this new hybrid structure in 2014. It gives the company’s directors the ability to pursue both the community benefits and the profits as their mission.

“Taste of Immokalee students pitched their company to our investors, and we were won over by their entrepreneurial drive to succeed,” says Timothy Cartwright, chairman of Tamiami Angel Funds, member-managed funds that invest in promising young companies. “They are at the vanguard of the trend of social investing, which considers both financial success and community benefits to create social change.”

Mr. Cartwright believes this new initiative with the Community Foundation of Collier County, called the Tamiami Angels Impact Investing Initiative, will create similar socially responsible investment opportunities in the future.

Tamiami Angel Funds raised an initial $12,000 from their members, which will be deposited in a special account set up by the community foundation for the benefit of Taste of Immokalee. This allows investors to claim a tax deduction because they donated the shares in the company to the nonprofit foundation.

“This is the kind of groundbreaking endeavor the community foundation was designed to facilitate, and we hope this is the first of many such corporate efforts to benefit other causes, such as restoring the environment and improving human health,” says Eileen Connolly-Keesler, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Collier County.

If Taste of Immokalee is as successful as investors believe it can be, the benefit to the community could be significant. For example, food and beverage company Newman’s Own has distributed $475 million to charity thanks to the actor Paul Newman, who founded the company in 1982.

The capital that Taste of Immokalee raises will be used to bring the manufacturing and distribution to Collier County and to boost sales to achieve profitability, says Steve Stolz, board member of Taste of Immokalee. Currently, the company has contracted with a Sarasota based firm to produce and package the sauces and salsa, but long-range plans include production in Immokalee.

The nonprofit 1 By 1 Leadership Foundation of SWFL helped the students launch Taste of Immokalee in 2014 with the help of grants from insurance giant State Farm. “This is all about the kids,” says John Lawson, executive director of the foundation. “They can build it to sustainability.”

For more information, visit www.tasteofimmokalee.com, www.tamiamiangels.com and www.cfcollier.org. ¦

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