A new business incubator is coming to King County’s local food scene this spring. The Food Business Resource Center’s incubator program was created specifically for small food and farm producers using locally grown ingredients to develop and test value-added and packaged food products.
Hosted at the 21 Acres sustainable agriculture facility in Woodinville, incubator program participants will receive free access to a commercial production kitchen, alongside business coaching and mentorship.
This investment is coming at an essential time for the region’s local food economy. The pandemic revealed and exacerbated many gaps in food infrastructure, especially around access to processing space such as commercial kitchens.
The ability to process local food into value-added products allows small farms to be more economically successful and makes local food more accessible for consumers. Business support specifically for local food entrepreneurs also gives these businesses a greater chance at success.
Henry Wong, Director of the Food Business Resource Center (FBRC), is excited that “the incubator program will provide more comprehensive business support and open up new market opportunities and channels for clients in the program.” However, this is nothing new for the FBRC. Since 1997, FBRC’s parent organization, Business Impacts NW, has been supporting underrepresented entrepreneurs in the Seattle area.
This incubator is just one of the many impactful programs of the FBRC, which serves as a one-stop shop for both new and established food and farm entrepreneurs, providing trainings, one-on-one business coaching, access to capital, networking, and marketplace opportunities.
While the FBRC works throughout Washington and Oregon, its new incubator program is exclusive to the Puget Sound region. The incubator program will provide participants with free commercial kitchen access, one-on-one coaching, assistance in permitting and securing capital, as well as connections to markets.
The incubator program is currently onboarding its first nine participants. These businesses create a diverse mix of food products and are mostly past the start-up phase. The program will continue accepting new businesses as kitchen space allows and as those already in the incubator strike out on their own.
Most entrepreneurs are expected to spend 12 to 18 months in the program, but it’s possible for a quicker timeline if the business is already fairly established. There is no cost to participants, only the expectation to attend monthly trainings and one-on-one coaching.
Packaged food businesses using local ingredients and farm businesses interested in creating value-added products are the target applicants for the program. Entrepreneurs must be local to the Puget Sound region and able to reliably commute to the commercial kitchen space in Woodinville to participate.
This year, the FBRC’s goal is to bring 40 entrepreneurs into the Incubator Program.
Providing free commercial kitchen access is key to propelling food businesses forward. “Commercial kitchen space in King County is in limited supply and can be costly. With this incubator program, we are opening up much needed kitchen space and eliminating the cost barriers,” Wong said.
This accessibility and wraparound business coaching and support are especially helpful for underrepresented food and farm producers who may not know how to navigate the complex regulations of food businesses or have the start-up capital to rent kitchen space.
Even for the FBRC, the process of securing commercial kitchen space was daunting.
“It has been a big undertaking to understand all the licensing and permitting requirements for running a commercial kitchen space and knowing the requirements for various businesses that will be producing in there but that, in and of itself, highlights the importance of being able to offer this program and being able to provide support to businesses in navigating those processes,” Wong said.
New food and farm businesses don’t have to be alone in this process, thanks to the FBRC. Wong, Incubator Kitchen Manager Janel Nonhoff, and King County Farm Business Support Specialist Devra Gartenstein are passionate about supporting entrepreneurs and uplifting King County’s local food system.
If you are a food or farm entrepreneur interested in applying for the FBRC Incubator Program, please visit businessimpactnw.org/food-business-resource-center/incubator-program/ Applications will be reviewed and selected on a rolling basis based on program fit and kitchen capacity.