Friday, April 06, 2012

President Obama Invites NY Organic Food Entrepreneur To JOBS Act Signing Ceremony

Samantha Abrams of emmy's organics brings vegan macaroons to the White House; a Presidential cookie might be the next project...
One of the small business entrepreneurs invited to the White House on Thursday to join President Obamas for the Rose Garden signing ceremony for the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act was Samantha Abrams, 25, of emmy’s organics in Ithaca, NY. Her wholesale vegan and gluten-free food company, co-founded in 2008 with partner Ian Gaffney, 29, makes coconut macaroons, chocolate sauce and snack foods with certified non-GMO ingredients. Abrams stood at President Obama's elbow as he signed the bill, a measure he has been promoting for months as a crucial way to re-tool the economy. She was also beside House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). (Above: Abrams is on the right beside the President, in blue)

An audience of about 200 watched President Obama use eleven different pens, one for each letter in his name, to make the bipartisan measure into law. It's a centerpiece of his push to boost America's employment rate, and eases regulations so aspiring entrepreneurs can access start-up and investment capital from sources other than banks--including from their fellow citizens, with online investments. Abrams and Gaffney did exactly that in 2010, launching an online donation campaign to crowd-source $15,000 to grow emmy's. They were successful, and caught the attention of the White House; thus the invite to the ceremony.

Gaffney, who stayed at home to "run the ship" while Abrams got to meet the President, said he was thrilled that emmy's is in the White House spotlight. "I cried a little bit," Gaffney said of the moment on Thursday night when he first saw the photo, above, of Abrams with the President in the Roosevelt Room right before the signing ceremony. (Above: Abrams watches as the President shakes hands with entrepreneur John Belizaire, CEO and Co-founder, FirstBest SYSTEMS Inc)

"I thought it was so sweet, and so cute. She was nervous," Gaffney said. "Samantha called right after, and said 'I can't talk long but I just met President Obama!' She was very excited, and whispering, because I don't think she was allowed to use her cell."

President hails bill as "a game changer"...
emmy's is now doing close to $1 million in business, with a large part of it devoted to the macaroons, Gaffney said. During the ceremony, the President hailed the bill as "a game changer" for small businesses such as emmy's, because it will allow for legal, safe crowd funding.

"Because of this bill, start-ups and small business will now have access to a big, new pool of potential investors -- namely, the American people," President Obama said. "For the first time, ordinary Americans will be able to go online and invest in entrepreneurs that they believe in."

The bill will phase in Securities and Exchange Commission regulations over a five-year period that will let smaller companies go public sooner. Firms that have annual gross revenues of less than $1 billion will have “emerging growth company” status. It is designed to help small businesses and high-growth enterprises raise capital more efficiently, and allow small and young firms to expand and hire faster.

"For business owners who want to take their companies to the next level, this bill will make it easier for you to go public," President Obama said.

In the past few months, emmy's sales have risen about 150%, Gaffney said, with the macaroons accounting for 75% of business. The company, started in a home kitchen, now has five employees, and wholesales to between 1,000-1,500 stores, including Whole Foods, GNC, and Hudson foods, the airport vendors.

"There are a lot of smaller mom and pop stores, too," Gaffney said.

Abrams brought macaroons to the White House, and handed them around during a business roundtable with Presidential aides in the Roosevelt Room before the Rose Garden ceremony.

"I don't think she got any to Obama," Gaffney said. "There was lots of security and all."

Gaffney said he's not sure if emmy's will be able to use the bill's resources for the next expansion, but he's happy other entrepreneurs will have an easier time raising money. The duo was not aware that the White House had noticed their 2010 fundraising effort until their online donation page was linked in a post on the White House blog that touted the President's plans for the JOBS Act.

"Wild," Gaffney said. "Totally unexpected."

Abrams' White House visit, he said, was a terrific feather in their bakers' toques, adding that creating a special Presidential macaroon has "crossed my mind."

"The 'Obamaroon' would be fun, huh?" Gaffney said.

The Rose Garden signing ceremony:

*Photos by Pete Souza/White House