About twelve years ago, while working at a co-op in Kalamazoo, Lucy Dilley began to recognize a need in the community for a shared-use, commercial kitchen. It seemed like a good business opportunity, but research led her in a slightly different direction. It dawned on her that what she really had was a social mission, and soon, what first felt like an entrepreneurial endeavor, became an educational one. Several partnerships, and moves later, her Can-Do Kitchen has become a driving force in Kalamzoo’s food culture.
Entreprenuers seeking to start, or expand, a food-based business will find a wealth of tools, resources, and support at this incubator. Ideally, each participant comes armed with ingenuity, determination, and at least one good recipe, and the Can-Do team helps them turn their idea into a functioning business within about three years.
In additional to making a well-equipped 1800 sq. ft. commercial kitchen space available to participants, the incubator provides resources for starting a business, finding funding, navigating licensing, acquiring ingredients, labeling products, creating pricing, developing marketing strategies, and more.
One of the keys to the program’s success is attendance at what they call Can-Do Camp, a 12-week process designed to provide insight on all of the key requirements of starting a food business, as well as best practices. This educational component is relatively mandatory, with a few exceptions for those who already have a proven track record in certain areas. Executive Directory, Lucy Dilley, believes it to be a primary catalyst for the program’s success.
“Attendance in Camp is highly encouraged. There is always more you can learn, and spending time with cohorts that are experiencing similar things is invaluable. For some, that’s the best part.”
The courses run twice a year, and include a broad range of subjects including, but not limited to: setting expectations, market research, business model canvases, registrations, legal issues, bookkeeping decisions, startup costs, food sample feedback, sourcing of packaging and ingredients; as well as branding, value propositions, cash flow, budgeting, pricing, being your own financial manager, social media, selling to stores, and doing demonstrations.
Interested entrepreneurs may attend one of their upcoming Group Tour & Information Sessions to receive an application. The next Can-Do Camp is scheduled for every Thursday February 22nd - May 10th, 2018, from 11:30am-1:00pm with applications due on Friday, February 16th.
While Dilley started her nonprofit knowing that there were existing businesses and new startups willing and able to pay for access to a shared kitchen and educational resources, she has also recognized that there are many people who do not have access to the necessary funding. Starting a food business, even with help, can be expensive. Can-Do’s newly relaunched Business Builder Scholarships aim to make the opportunity more accessible to those who need an additional assist.
“As much as we are intentional about keeping our rate as accessible as we can,” said Dilley, “sometimes it’s still too much for some people. We decided to start a sponsorship program to open up access.”
The scholarship idea was first launched in 2013 with eight recipients. After a break to secure additional funds, the nonprofit is once again poised to offer this unique opportunity. The scholarship is for people who have low household income, low net assets, and have a marginalized identity such as racial, disability, LGBTQ+, refugee, or immigrant identity.
“We really wanted to acknowledge that in addition to having low income there are some other things that can exasperate the disadvantages of getting to try out a business idea,” Dilley explained.
Interested, eligible applicants are encouraged to click here to get additional information and/or apply. The deadline to apply is midnight on January 25, 2018.
Photo credit: Melissa Al-Azzawi
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