After 75 years, Johnsonville Sausage continues to evolve, refining its brand while keeping tabs on industry disruptors through its growing involvement in venture capital.
In a little more than two years, the sausage manufacturer’s parent company, Johnsonville Holdings, created three corporate venture funds. Although each of the three funds has a separate thesis, each one aims to keep the family-owned company relevant in the industry’s changing environment.
Johnsonville started its first corporate venture fund, MSAB Capital, LLC, in 2018. The company was looking for new ways to keep Johnsonville Sausage competitive, said Kevin Ladwig, MSAB Capital president.
“That was really the impetus for us to start looking at corporate venturing and really using our proceeds in different ways, rather than the tried-and-true way,” Ladwig said.
Ladwig, who has been with Johnsonville for over 30 years, engages with company leadership to find challenges and soft spots within the company.
“That gives me a good perspective and lens to then go into the outside world and begin looking for possible solutions to help Johnsonville,” he said.
MSAB Capital was created to not only invest in early-stage companies, but also to build partnerships in the life sciences space.
In a studio model, MSAB Capital supports small businesses, using its own expertise to accelerate a startup’s product to use it in-house with the goal of commercialization.
“We perfect the technology and once we’ve done that, we use that application within Johnsonville,” Ladwig said.
Johnsonville Ventures, the company’s second venture fund, focuses on making investments in the food and beverage space.
In April, Johnsonville created its third corporate venture fund, which Ladwig describes as more of an “agnostic fund,” or a vehicle to invest in areas that seem compelling but don’t necessarily have to do with Johnsonville’s operations.
Between its three venture funds, Johnsonville has invested in 12 separate companies. The size of each venture fund as well as the dollar amount of each investment made was not disclosed.