Petaluma vegan food producer takes business to next level at entrepreneurial boot camp

In July, a Petaluma woman started a stint at a unique boot camp, one set up by a Seattle-based law firm specifically to give women a leg up in the food and beverage business.

Davis Wright Tremaine, which manages eight offices for its 580 attorneys with one in San Francisco, looked north to Sonoma County’s Renegade Foods in accepting Iona Campbell’s application to learn all about business administration in the seven-week crash course. Campbell’s company creates vegan food products.

“It’s invaluable knowledge I’m not going to find on the Internet,” Campbell, 36, said, citing the study of business contracts as one example. “What’s really amazing to me is that they bring people in with food and packaged goods experience.”

She’s also expanded her exposure to the big guns of vegetarian foods by hearing advice from a representative of Beyond Meat, which produces plant-based meat patties.

“I was raised a vegetarian. Being a vegetarian doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite flavors. I don’t eat animals, but I’m very much a foodie and want to share it with others,” she said, admitting her knowledge is more food-based and lacks some business acumen.

The business accelerator course meets every Thursday, and Campbell represents one in nine applicants taking full advantage of it.

A chef by trade with a penchant for marketing and journalism education, Campbell has created recipes for a decade and decided to go into business with that talent.

She started the European-style vegan salami company two years ago in June. One year later, she launched the sales effort. Since then and despite COVID-19-related challenges many companies have faced, she has brought in about $300,000 in direct-to-consumer sales and five employees to help.

She has also accumulated 25 wholesale accounts, including the Good Earth Natural Foods in Marin County and Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco.

Still, there’s much more to learn that the large legal firm with a bent for philanthropy could help with, such as assisting with watching out for pitfalls that may arise. For example, Campbell soon plans to line up a manufacturing facility in Kent, Wash., to mass produce her salami line.

Campbell’s boot camp of sorts ends July 29, when perhaps she can place her mind at ease.

“It’s really helped. In the startup world, it’s intense. There are a lot of sleepless nights,” she said.

As part of its wider “Project W” diversity-promoting philanthropic program the law firm started in 2016 and has since served at least 80 entrepreneurs, the firm’s new subset section designed for food and beverage attendees is called Emerging Food Brands Lab. It started in June.

The program involves the education of large-scale production, distribution and raising capital. The nine founders working in food production are producers of vegan cheese, wine and burgers. Other companies Davis Wright Tremaine has advised Dave’s Killer Bread, Voodoo Doughnut and Salt & Straw ice cream.

“Our company is committed to diversity and equity and try to help these startups by bringing in experts from firms we find in the business world,” Davis Wright Tremaine spokesman Mark Fefer told the Business Journal.

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