Louisa Schibli has always been fascinated by crowdfunding. In 2012, when she learned that fellow Vermonter Janice Shade was using a community-supported enterprise model for her True Body soap, she placed a cold call and the two women spent almost three hours chatting at Muddy Waters, concluding that they would make great business partners one day.
A graduate of UVM, Schibli married her college sweetheart. They moved to Switzerland and for the first five years, she worked in commodities, but then took time off to raise their three children. In 2001 Schibli launched a website for ex-pats living in Switzerland that was essentially a Yellow Pages of Swiss companies that offered their services in English.
Returning to Vermont, she started a blog called Moogle Vermont to promote interesting things taking place in the state. It was while researching for Moogle that Schibli came to have her meeting with Shade.
Several years later, when Shade was working as a contract CFO for Mamava, the two women learned that the Vermont Department of Financial Regulations had updated the Vermont Small Business Offering Exemption, which allows Vermont residents who don’t have large sums of money to invest in local businesses. Recognizing that the revision would make it easier for Vermonters to invest, Schibli and Shade decided to form Milk Money to facilitate the process.
Schibli brought a web and technical background to the company, while Shade brought experience in consumer packaged goods.
In July of 2015, Rob Miller of the Vermont State Employees Credit Union learned about the company and offered to provide funding. Soon, 70 companies made their way to Milk Money in the hope the two women would help them find investors. Schibli and Shade have a ten-point checklist to ensure that companies meet their approval, including a review of their branding, web presence, business plan, long-term goals, and a product that will resonate with Vermonters.
Current businesses being funded are Vermont Hay Company, Burlington Herb Clinic, Vermont Evaporator Company, Gringo Jacks, and Green Mountain Organic Creamery, and several others are close to signing on.
Schibli noted that investors do not have to provide large sums of money. Two of the companies they assist have a minimum of $250, but combined, the five have raised over $86,000. Although there is no guarantee of getting one’s investment back, Schibli said there are other perks.
“There is a huge social reward,” she said, “because you can meet the owners and become a brand ambassador, and your money stays local.”
In 2002, Schibli and her family left Zurich and moved to Charlotte. “It has a lake, mountains, and a border an hour away,” she said. “It’s our mini-Switzerland.” Schibli enjoys both the mountains and the lake, but also spends time cycling and photographing the scenery around her. She serves on the boards of the Charlotte News, the Refugee Outreach Club, which provides student-led tutoring for new Americans, Launch VT, and TOUCH Uganda.
“Milk Money isn’t crowdfunding,” Schibli said, “and it’s not a donation. You’re investing and you’re keeping your money local. If one percent of Vermonters over the age of 18 were to invest $500 this year, $2.5 million would go back into the economy. We’re filling a niche and it’s powerful. You’re not guaranteed a financial return but the social return is always there. It’s impact investment.”