Chapter 2: Goals & Data
Goal 11: Vermont’s food processing and manufacturing capacity will expand to meet the needs of a growing food system.
To increase the infrastructure and capacity of value-added food processing and manufacturing facilities.
Vermont Agriculture Development Program - Evaluation and Lessons Learned
What did your organization or program do?
In-Depth Business Coaching
The VADP was designed to offer a “deep-dive” coaching experience for individual early and growth stage businesses in Vermont that provide key infrastructure to the local food system, and more recently, to the forest products sector. The goal of the pilot was to strengthen and grow these sectors by developing their management capacity and access to growth capital.
In its first three years of direct service, from July 2011 to June 2014, the VADP served the owner/operators, and at times the key management teams, of 25 individual enterprises. The duration of these coaching engagements ranged from six to 20 months, with an average length of 12 months. These engagements averaged 18 face-to-face coaching sessions, and just over 100 hours of direct service per client. The Program Director, John Ryan, was the primary “management coach” for all but one of the engagements during the pilot period. Other consultants were brought in for about a third of the clients, to focus on specific accounting, legal, engineering, design, or marketing issues.
The program aimed to balance two goals. From the outset, the VADP committed to “meeting clients wherever they are.” That is:
- Listen carefully to their goals, dreams and challenges;
- Assess their strengths and weaknesses;
- Understand how they best learn from the sessions;
- Collaborate with them about the scope of the coaching engagement; and
- Work with each client as a unique individual and experience.
The coaching was not intended, nor did it deliver, a specific system or management approach. At the same time, the Program Director did teach common habits of mind and offered tools to help each entrepreneur make better decisions and build stronger companies, hopefully long after the coaching engagement ended.
Food system clients included:
- AquaVitea Kombucha
- Butterworks Farm
- Champlain Orchards
- Deep Root Organic Co-op
- Eden Ice Cider
- Farmers to You
- Freedom Foods
- Green Mountain Organic Creamery
- Grow Compost
- Harlow Farm / Westminster Organics
- Mad River Food Hub
- Pete's Greens
- Screaming Ridge Farm
- The Royal Butcher
- Vermont Food Venture Center
- Vermont Livestock Slaughter and Processing
- Vermont Soy
- Westminster Meats
How well did your organization or program do it?
3rd Party Evaluation Found the Program Effective
VSJF hired Stephanie Lahar of Montpelier VT to evaluate the program’s effectiveness based on interviews with VADP participants to date. The following represent her key finding and recommendations:
Evaluator’s Key Findings
- VADP has provided high benefits to program clients and the state’s agricultural development community. It has shown similar promise in its 2014 program expansion to serving several forest products enterprises.
- It has demonstrated an exceptional transfer of learning and skills development to clients.
- It was difficult to assign short-term financial values to the changes and developments that VADP had assisted business and nonprofit leaders to make.
- A very small number of the program participants did not benefit, and the reasons that those few did not benefit were largely circumstantial.
- A few participants wished for a somewhat less facilitative and more directive approach and relationship than was offered and expected in the program.
- Participant contribution of fees to program costs is likely at a maximum.
- Continue to provide, and explicitly value follow-up activities and networking opportunities such as roundtable discussions which bring together current and past participants to discuss issues of importance to these entrepreneurs.
- Review client selection criteria and client readiness, and explicitly tailor services to client, as well as enterprise, readiness.
- Engage in some level of succession planning for the program.
- Make VADP’s role and niche among agricultural and forest products assistance programs and services clearer and more explicit, especially to people outside the sector including policymakers.
Is Vermont better off as a result
Most Clients Have Experienced Post-Program Success
The enterprises that went through the program provided key financial data for two years prior to their engagement and agreed to forward updates for three years after the program ended. This provides a six-year window into several key performance metrics. The following summarizes responses received at the end of calendar year 2014.
Sixteen of the 18 post-program businesses provided VADP with their 2014 financial data.
Compared to the baseline year that they enrolled in the program:
- 15 of 16 had increased SALES
- 13 of 15 had increased NET OPERATING INCOME
- 13 of 16 had added JOBS
- 16 of 16 reported higher TOTAL and AVERAGE WAGES
- 11 of 16 have made CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS of at least $100,000 since the start of their engagement
- 12 of the 16 have raised OUTSIDE CAPITAL of at least $100,000 since the start of their engagement
As a group, the program’s 16 reporting graduates have increased their revenue by an average of 15.3% per year and wages by 19.6% per year. They have each added an annual average of 2.0 FTE employees and increased Net Revenue by $25,300 per business per year. Each of these same businesses experienced an average annual growth of $161,000 in New Capital, $252,000 in Total Assets, $224,000 in Capital Improvements, and $48,900 in Net Equity in the year or years after finishing their VADP engagement. For each of these metrics, with the exception of accessing New Capital, their average experience was significantly more positive after their VADP engagement than in the two years that preceded it.
One of the highly valued aspects of the program turned out to be a series of “Roundtables” that bring together past and current clients to share a meal, discuss and problem solve on some aspect of being an entrepreneur. The popularity of these sessions highlights a critical social function; provides continuity after their one-on-one engagements; and serves in an informal advisory capacity for the businesses that take advantage of the opportunity.
Read the VADP Evaluation here:
There have not been any updates to this performance measurement.