Barnraiser Is the Kickstarter of Food Businesses, Helping 82 Percent of Its Projects Off the Ground

Eileen Gordon Chiarello © Courtesy of Barnraiser
By Beth Kowitt Posted January 22, 2015

Barnraiser founder Eileen Gordon Chiarello is tapping into a market of American foodies who are focused on health and sustainability. 

Barnraiser founder Eileen Gordon Chiarello is tapping into a market of American foodies who are focused on health and sustainability. For more inspiring stories, follow #FOODWINEWOMEN on Twitter. 

It would have made Eileen Gordon Chiarello’s life a whole lot easier if Barnraiser, the startup she launched last year, had been around when she and her husband began building businesses together.

Serial entrepreneurs in the food space, Chiarello and her husband, award-winning chef Michael Chiarello, have a vineyard in Napa, an artisanal food and kitchenware retailer called NapaStyle, and Dirt to Dine Adventures, a camp for kids—just to name few of their collaborations.

But getting these kinds of projects off the ground, especially in the artisanal food world, is notoriously difficult. Even with popular products, thin margins make it hard for producers to reinvest in their businesses to help them grow.

With Barnraiser—essentially a Kickstarter for the foodie world—Chiarello hopes to change all of that.

“Our objective is to take the power I’ve seen in crowdfunding and apply it to the 41 million Americans who align themselves with health and sustainability,” she tells Fortune.

Through Barnraiser, that community has funded projects like a new creamery barn for a farm in Nebraska, a wood-fired oven at a bakery in North Carolina, a conference on the future of meat and a hub for information on sustainable beekeeping.

Chiarello believes that targeting a food-focused crowd will result in a higher level of funding and better success rates compared to other crowdfunding platforms. Right now, Barnraiser projects are successfully funded 82 percent of the time and raise $12,000 on average.

Chiarello says that a great deal of power exists in $15,000 to $30,000 projects. “There’s a lot of pent-up ingenuity and innovation,” she adds, “but there’s a real barrier to entry and real pain points that often are not about a lot of money.”

Barnraiser unites Chiarello’s background in tech—she once worked at Apple [fortune-stock symbol="APPL"]—with her expertise in food. “This business idea chased me around until I figured out what it was,” she says.

The site screens for projects centered on health and sustainability, and all must seek to raise a minimum of $2,000. “We’re interested in anyone moving the needle even an inch,” Chiarello says.

Barnraiser takes a guided approach to crowdfunding. “The model that has been built up to date in crowdfunding is 'I provide you with the platform, and may the best man win,' ” Chiarello explains. Barnraiser makes it easy for users to tell their stories, which doubles as a marketing tool, and Chiarello pushes them to first develop a community that would want to support their project. “You can’t just put up a project and ask for a million dollars,” she adds.

The site has doubled its visitors and the projects in its pipeline every month, and Chiarello is planning a round of funding for the fall. About a dozen Angel investors, including the Chiarellos, provided the initial financing to get the project off the ground.

Chiarello is proud of the fact that the site’s user demographics look a bit different from other crowdfunding platforms. Not only are most of the backers on the site women, but about 50 percent of the projects are done by women.

Related: Get Daily Updates About the World's Most Powerful Women in The Broadsheet
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