Apr 19, 2022
Investors often say that they evaluate a company’s potential based on business fundamentals, such as gross margin, retail velocity and brand awareness. As much as anything, however, personal alignment with entrepreneurs in terms of character, vision and demeanor is core to the investment philosophy of Manna Tree Partners.
A private equity firm whose stated mission is “to invest in the future of human health,” Manna Tree holds stakes in 11 companies, several of which were represented at its inaugural Global Health Forum in March, which focused on the future of longevity through food and nutrition.
During the conference, we sat down with Manna Tree’s three co-founders and three portfolio company entrepreneurs to examine the origins and development of their relationships. The conversations revealed how their personal friendship established a baseline for trust and helped create positive outcomes for each of the companies.
The conversations paired Manna Tree CEO Ellie Rubenstein with Dana Ehrlich, the founder and CEO of leading grass-fed beef company Verde Farms; Manna Tree CIO Ross Iverson with Daina Trout, the co-founder and chief mission officer of gut-health-centric beverage brand Health-Ade; and the firm’s president Brent Drever with Viraj Puri, the co-founder and CEO of indoor greenhouse pioneer Gotham Greens.
2:27: Ellie Rubenstein, CEO, Manna Tree Partners and Dana Ehrlich, Founder/CEO, Verde Farms – Rubenstein discussed the focus of Manna Tree’s Global Health Forum and why it was hosted in Vail, Colorado, Ehrlich spoke about the origins of Verde Farms and his personal connection to grass-fed beef and both spoke about how an initial meeting made it apparent that Manna Tree was the right partner for the company, which had previously spurned outside investment. They also discussed how the private equity firm helped Verde establish a dedicated board of directors and management team and how Rubenstein evaluated Verde as a category leader that could help deliver on Manna Tree’s overarching mission.
27:28: Daina Trout, Co-Founder/Chief Mission Officer, Health-Ade and Ross Iverson, CIO, Manna Tree Partners – After noting that the interview marked Trout’s third appearance on Taste Radio and Iverson’s second (yet, first IRL), the Health-Ade co-founder spoke about the shift in her day-to-day role, while Manna Tree’s CIO explained why he’s happier with the company’s expanded vision following the firm’s investment in August 2021. Trout explained how she and Health-Ade’s leadership team identified Manna Tree as a potential investor and why she described the relationship as “a special connection,” why Trout is confident that Manna Tree will help maintain the integrity and quality of Health-Ade products and how Iverson evaluates the growing opportunities for better-for-you sparkling beverages and kombucha.
53:09: Brent Drever, President, Manna Tree Partners and Viraj Puri, Co-Founder/CEO, Gotham Greens – Drever spoke about the speakers and panels at Manna Tree’s Global Health Forum before Puri expounded upon Gotham Greens’ recent announcement that the company would be doubling its indoor greenhouse capacity. The investor then discussed Manna Tree’s investment in Gotham Greens, beginning with the firm’s evaluation of the indoor greenhouse industry and why he was impressed by the company’s brand, unit economics and vision for expansion. They also shared how they built a relationship during the first four months of the pandemic beginning with a face-to-face meeting in Chicago that was instrumental in establishing a foundation for their relationship. Puri explained why he was impressed by Manna Tree’s “rigorous” due diligence process and global network, how Drever assessed Gotham Greens’ potential for international expansion, how both consider technology and sustainability as part of the company’s growth strategy, and the flexibility of its exit strategy.