Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Ben Kohn, an entrepreneur, investor, builder, and VP of Partnerships for EMERGING fund. Thanks to his extensive background in restaurant technology and startups, he’s set to grow the Fund’s portfolio companies within and beyond the EMERGING network.
Let’s see what he had to say about this exciting venture and what led him to the EMERGING Fund.
Finding the Path to Fulfillment
Ben Kohn: I started my career in telecom. I did well selling it for some companies and decided that I was going to go off and build a company because I thought I could do it better. I was 24 years old and a cloud-based telephony provider. I raised money, built a team, and started selling it. And I found that I hated it, and I was not enjoying my life and feeling very miserable. So, I sold my customer base for a little more money than my investors and I had put into it, got all my people moved over into the new entity, and then set out on a journey to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
I invested in and consulted with a number of different businesses across different segments, including renewable energy and the Internet of Things. As an investor and consultant, I helped several friends and founders grow their sales, marketing, and technical teams, resulting in a few exits and more profitable businesses. Of all the different consulting projects, the most fulfilling was helping an economic nonprofit in Cleveland focused on digital literacy and financial training for people who typically don’t come from neighborhoods where that’s accessible.
On to Gordon Food Service and the VP of Back of House
Following that, I came back to Chicago. I helped Gordon Food Service and its venture capital arm set up a restaurant technology hub called Back of House. The Back of House platform was a marketplace for restaurant operators to learn about the different tools to help them run their restaurants and then connect with those tools on their own time. So, I operated there as their VP of Growth. I built relationships with hundreds of restaurant technology providers, big groups like Toast and Square, small startups, and everybody in between, figuring out how to make compelling packages for them to sell to Gordon Food Services’ sizable key service base. I did that until April of this year and then took a little time before jumping into the EMERGING Fund.
What is Your Primary Goal in EMERGING Fund?
My primary goal is to scale fund ResTech Investments with influential operators. We will give these top operators the ability to directly invest as they give us feedback and help us improve the company. These companies are all at different stages of their evolution, but they’ve all, at some point, proven that they have products or services that are super valuable to restaurants and hospitality organizations. I want to help them grow that and scale that in a way that adds to the hospitality groups, their employees, and their stakeholders and then, by proxy, to the investment property and the Fund.
How do you connect with these growing tech companies?
Within the EMERGING Fund, ideally, there are warm intros through one of the restaurant concepts we work with or someone using them and saying, “Hey, this product is really great.” Sometimes, we reach out, or they reach out to us.
What excites you the most about this opportunity?
The EMERGING Fund thesis is that we can provide growth and growth services in addition to equity for these startups, making a better investment for everyone involved. These startups and companies get partners interested in and invested in helping them grow, not just giving them money and hoping for the best.
To be at the forefront of that is a great honor, and it will also be a ton of work and a big responsibility. So, I’m very much looking forward to doing that, and helping the Fund make good on its thesis, and helping our investments grow their customer base. It’s a different day every day, working with people focused on growing and helping them do that means going into restaurant and hospitality locations and figuring out how to find the value for them
In essence, I get to wake up every day excited about doing some very cool shit with some very cool people.
Well said, Ben.