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Kitchen Council lowers entry barrier for food entrepreneurs

The concept of applying a business accelerator model to a shared commercial kitchen isn’t new. Food incubators like Union Kitchen in Washington D.C. have been around for years.

But bringing that model to the heart of the Silicon Prairie is something new.

The Greater Omaha Chamber in partnership with the Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce and the Iowa West Foundation came together to launch the Midwest’s largest food incubator, Kitchen Council in early 2018.

The project merges a startup incubator with a shared commercial kitchen space to help food-based businesses grow and launch their concepts in a low-risk, supportive environment.

“Leaders got together and realized that this is a unique area for something like a food incubator,” said Holly Benson Muller, Managing Director of Kitchen Council. “We’re in this really great place where we have food producers in our own backyard, food companies and great resources.

Members have access to a fully-equipped commercial kitchen, as well as access to business-development assistance and additional resources. Members are required to have a food handling permit and their own insurance but otherwise, Kitchen Council has them covered. Members can also choose from different tiers to fit their needs as their businesses grow.

“We’re trying to take care of everything else so they can focus on their craft, their product and growing their business,” said Benson Muller. “We realize that a lot of the entrepreneurs might be experts with food and might be experts in the kitchen, but they don’t necessarily understand what a business plan might look like, how to develop marketing, taxes, insurance, packaging, distribution, all of those pieces.”

Kitchen Council is also working to connect kitchen members to experts in the community who can provide consulting. That will be where the accelerator portion of the program takes off.

Experts will work hand-in-hand with businesses to make sure they’re hitting steps to make sure they’re growing their businesses.

“When a business comes in, our job will be to assess where are. Are they in concept phase? Have they already been established and they’re looking to grow? What do they think their priorities are,” said Benson Muller. “We’re putting that accelerator structure together as we speak.”

Benson Muller said that there are some similarities between tech entrepreneurs and food entrepreneurs and the two communities can find opportunities for collaboration.

“You look at local companies like Omaha Steaks or eCreamery and they have essentially become a tech company or there’s a tech component,” said Benson Muller. “They’re online and they’re scaling their product and getting it into the hands of people across the country.”

The Greater Omaha Chamber is also the force behind The Startup Collaborative, an accelerator and incubator for tech startups.

The two accelerators provide service to startups in vastly different industries, but there are universal lessons that apply to all entrepreneurs regardless of what kind of business they’re building.

“Every great entrepreneur starts out by solving a market need,” said Erica Wassinger, cofounder of The Startup Collaborative. “In tech, those needs present themselves in processes that can be evolved, for example. In creative endeavors like food, those needs present themselves through a desire for more culture, excitement, alignment with values, etc.”

Wassinger said that communities are built on the visionary, creative entrepreneurs that give rise to culture, whether that’s fashion, arts, food or tech. Benson Muller hopes that Kitchen Council can achieve just that by giving rise to new food entrepreneurs who will elevate the area’s food culture.

“From a community standpoint, what I hope is something like a Kitchen Council can do is put an emphasis on supporting local resources,” said Benson Muller. “When people come to visit Omaha, let’s make sure they know we have great restaurants and great innovation in terms of food.”

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Christine McGuigan is the Managing Editor of Silicon Prairie News.

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