If you're a Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos, you pretty much can sneeze and your bank will shell out millions from your account to fund whatever venture you think of. What about the rest of us? How can we get big investors to notice what we dream of doing? Katie Stagliano, founder of Katie's Krops, has it figured out.
From one cabbage to $50,000
In 2008, at just age 9, Stagliano made a food donation to Tri-County Family Ministries--one gigantic cabbage she'd grown in her own backyard. That one donation changed everything, inspiring her to keep donating and setting her on the path to successful youth entrepreneurship.
"At just 10 years old," Stagliano explains, "I shared a basket of produce from my garden with a single mom who had been struggling homelessness and hunger. She took my hand, her eyes filled with tears, and at that moment, I realized the impact of what I was doing. [...] My age didn't matter, my size didn't matter. It was in my heart that mattered, and I wanted to continue to grow."
So Stagliano pushed for help. She got other kids involved, entered contests, got her school to donate land for a garden and even got help from Fields to Families. Finally, she took a leap to start Katie's Krops, a community-based 501c3 that grows gardens to reduce hunger. She now sits on the organization's board and also formed a youth advisory board to ensure the organization maintains a youth voice and hears the concerns of local growers.
Then, this year, Stagliano went out on another limb and entered the General Mills Feeding Better Futures Scholars program. The effort turned into $50,000 in Stagliano's pocket--General Mills was so impressed they named her as their grand prize winner.
What made General Mills pay massive attention
Mary Jane Laird, executive director for the General Mills Foundation, breaks down why Stagliano made the contest judges sit up in their seats.
"First," Laird says, "[there was] the long-term dedication she showed to fighting hunger relief. Katie founded Katie's Krops a decade ago--when she was 9 years old--and that really showed us how committed she was to this issue. Second, the growth she's demonstrated over the life of Katie's Krops. But she and Katie's Krops still have an opportunity to grow, so we knew providing resources would have an impact. And lastly, her passion for helping others. [...] Katie's Krops embodies exactly what Feeding Better Futures is all about. Her enthusiasm and positivity is contagious, and we are honored to be part of her journey."
Did you catch those four key components? Let's review. To catch an investor's eye, you need:
1. Long-term dedication--Can you show that your idea isn't just some whim you'll abandon at the drop of a hat when the going gets tough? What shows you've been working toward the same goal for months or years?
2. Past growth--Can you quantify that you're getting better? Can you verbalize how you've changed for the better, both as a business and personally as a leader?
3. Opportunity for more growth--OK, OK. You've done X. Good job. But where can you still take your investors and customers? What kind of return can you offer for their faith and money?
4. Passion--This ties back to long-term dedication. Investors want to fund people who are consumed every day by an honest need to work on their idea. Why? Because passion lifts you past boredom, burnout and distraction, ultimately leading to a high-quality, consistent product or service. That you're naturally willing to promote yourself and your work is just the convenient cherry on their expensive HR/marketing ice cream.
"Showing true ambition, drive and commitment to impacting your cause is key," says Laird. "With Feeding Better Futures, we were looking for young people who were already making an impact in their local communities - not waiting to "grow up" to get started - and who wanted to scale their programs to reach more people on a national, or even global scale. Starting in your own communities and being able to show the impact you can make on a smaller scale - and, eventually, how you hope to scale that to larger populations - shows investors, funders and other supporters your path and commitment to impacting more people."
Facing the "ouch"
Stagliano has one more trait that's helping her succeed even after getting General Mills' nod--the ability to look at current skills and resources to solve problems creatively. One kink in her program has been wildlife, which sometimes eats away the organization's crops. But seeing that most of her volunteers were swimmers, she created the "Dive In to End Hunger" event, with volunteers swimming to fund fencing. Embracing challenges, Stagliano insists, allows for new opportunities.
If you know where you want others to go, take the first step to get there yourself
Today, there are about 100 Katie's Krops gardens in the United States. And last year, 39,000 pounds of food from those gardens was donated to soup kitchens, shelters and food banks.
Stagliano is still amazed by her accomplishments and claims she never imagined Katie's Krops would reach its current success or catch support from a big name brand. But her parting advice for other young entrepreneurs is spot on.
"Lead by example. [...] A lot of people talk about something, but it can take a lot of work to take action. Once you take action, it will show others how invested you are, and they will want to support you. Speaking from a gardener's point of view, get your hands dirty."