No tents required for Can-Do Kitchen Camp, but desire to build a food business is

Change is coming to the way Can-Do Kitchen helps food businesses get started.

Beginning March 24, Can-Do Kitchen will open its first Can-Do Camp. The 12-week program introduces aspiring food entrepreneurs to the steps they'll need to take to get their business from the idea phase to implementation, says Lucy Dilley, Can-Do Kitchen executive director.

In the past nine years, Can-Do Kitchen staff has met one-on-one with the new business owners it has worked with. That has helped launch businesses such as a Brazilian bread startup, and cold brewed coffee company, and one with a product that is currently in development -- beet kvass, a traditional Russian beverage that is a fermented, probiotic tonic. 

Some of those meetings will still take place, but the camp concept makes it easier to invite in specialists with food business experience to give advice on best practices and offer their expertise to a group. 

It's anticipated that by going through the Can-Do Camp together, food entrepreneurs will build relationships, develop a network, and use each other as a resource that they will be able to draw on for many years, Dilley says. 

And the camp also makes startup information available to those who might be cooking in kitchens other than the Can-Do Kitchen. Previously, startup business advice was available only to those using Can-Do's facilities.

During the 12 week program, the new food business owners will go through steps like finding a viable product and developing their brand. 

What to expect

In week one, food business entrepreneurs will bring samples of their food for others to taste. Participants also will learn what it means to be part of the Can-Do Kitchen and the expectations of those in the group.

Next is the early planning stages of the fledgling businesses. Entrepreneurs will begin determining what sets their product apart from similar ones on the market. An analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) will identify areas where new business owners have the skills they need and where they need assistance. Goals that help them create a plan for the business will begin to be identified.

In week three, food entrepreneurs will use a CANVAS tool, a strategic management and lean startup template for developing new business models. Dilley says it will test the participants' assumptions regarding who their customers are.

The following week, they will be introduced to the early stages of branding with assistance from Melissa Al-Azzawi of Handmade Kalamazoo. 

Next up is what Dilley refers to as the nitty gritty -- the legal requirements that need to be followed to start a business and what it takes to form a business entity. Information on how to use barcodes and understanding food licensing are part of this week. The business owners will also begin developing their pitches and learn what to expect as they go out to with their new products. 

In week six, businesses will be paired with mentors who will help them process what they have learned in the first five weeks of Can-Do Kitchen Camp and strategize what they need to do next.  

In the seventh week, entrepreneurs will get an introduction to funding their startups, including how to access unconventional funds and Information from Raising Dough by Elizabeth U, a guide to the full range of financing options available to support sustainable food businesses.

Next up are sourcing ingredients and pricing products. A Small Business Development Center counselor will talk about what to consider when looking for ingredients and packaging. Participants will learn the pricing tiers -- distributor, wholesale and retail. Dilley says the successful business owner needs to know how to develop all three of them though they might not initially have a distributor.  

In week nine, entrepreneurs will learn why they need to be a financial manager, budgeting tools, how to set business benchmarks, and other financial advice from a Small Business Development counselor.

In the final weeks, they will learn more about marketing, such as how to promote their products online. Examples of labels will be shared and workshopped. Ways to talk to buyers, how to set up an attractive sampling display, and further advice on how to make a pitch are all part of the last three weeks. 
As the class wraps up, the food business owners will decide if they are ready to become clients of the Can-Do Kitchen and work on their graduation plans.
The important dates

Registration is required for Can-Do Camp and is due by March 15.

Participants are asked to be part of a group tour to find out more about the program. The tours are Feb. 18 at noon and March 6 at 6:30 p.m. 

Can-Do Kitchen moves forward

The move to offer Can-Do Camp is the latest in a series of new endeavors for the Can-Do Kitchen. It is coming off a year of changes. In 2016, the community's only food business incubator received independent 501c3 status as a nonprofit. It formerly was a project of Fair Food Matters. 

Can-Do Kitchen also moved from its home of five years, the People's Food Co-op, to a new location at 3501 Lake Street. It shares space there with C&M Catering. The new space will allow it to increase the number of clients it serves. Previously, it consistently served about 25 clients, with at least 15 at one time. The commercial kitchen on Lake Street has 2,500 square feet and access to two separate stations for food prep.

Kathy Jennings is the Managing Editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.

To learn more about the Can-Do Kitchen and its clients check out these related stories.

The Can-Do Kitchen sets up business in a new location

Rising Dough: Brazilian bread start-up aims to double sales after graduating Can-Do Kitchen

Cold-brew coffee maker ready for the next step in her business
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