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by Adam Salomone, Co-founder, The Food Loft

Adam Salomone

For years, small publishers have struggled with ways to go “beyond the book.” In order to be successful in emerging digital environments, publishers have to find ways to emphasize their relevance as content gatekeepers, tastemakers, and trend trackers.

What we found at Harvard Common Press (HCP) is that we had a wealth of content and knowledge about trends in food, and this made us an invaluable partner for food-tech start-ups that were innovating at the intersection of food and digital technology. We possessed expertise that these start-ups couldn’t find elsewhere—and for HCP, it gave the company an inexpensive way to invest in R&D around new tech-oriented business models.

The first step for any publisher is taking stock of the content and expertise to which you have access. HCP was fortunate to focus primarily on cookbooks, which gave us a clear opportunity in food. Publishers with multiple areas of focus should identify the top vertical in which to pilot such a strategy.

From there, publishers should focus on learning as much as possible about new innovations in their areas of focus. Ultimately, this comes down to building relationships. When we first pursued this strategy in 2009, we started by meeting with dozens of entrepreneurs. In the beginning, our thesis was tightly focused: We were interested in finding a digital food content company with which to partner. We found this in a company called Yummly, which was building an intelligent recipe search engine for recipes. It felt like striking gold: Instead of investing millions of dollars and countless hours trying to compete in the digital recipe space, we had a ready avenue for partnership, and we made our first financial investment to solidify that strategy.

The attention surrounding that first investment was what opened the floodgates. Flash forward, and over the past seven years, we’ve met with about 500 food entrepreneurs, vetted dozens of deals, and made five investments. In 2013, we also converted our office space to an innovation center for food startups called The Food Loft.

Remember that nothing will happen overnight. Ours was a strategy almost a decade in the making. We didn’t start at the beginning knowing exactly where we’d end up, but through small, incremental investments over a number of years, our work gave us new relevance in digital innovation around food, helped us explore new business models, delivered incremental revenue, and, most importantly, forged a path forward for our company.

Adam Salomone is the co-founder of The Food Loft, a co-working community for food and food-tech entrepreneurs in Boston.

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