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It seemed to former IT professional Michael Madigan that everywhere he looked in his home base of Portland, Ore., was brimming with food trucks, pop-up restaurants, DIY bakers, cheesemongers and condiment-makers selling at farmers markets.
“I asked myself, ‘Where do these folks cook?’” Madigan recalls. He also wondered if they could use some help growing their ventures.
After researching food incubators around the country (and finding just two in existence), in 2011 Madigan opened KitchenCru, Portland’s 4,800-square-foot incubator for culinary companies. Participants pay roughly $23 to $28 an hour, plus food-storage costs, to rent space in the fully equipped, licensed commercial kitchen. Professional kitchen experience is not required; entrepreneurs need only register their business with the city and state, get a food-handler’s permit and obtain liability insurance.
“I’ve tried to develop something that breaks down the barriers to entry,” Madigan says. “I tell people, ‘Bring your knives, and you’re ready to cook.’”
Besides helping with business plans, branding and e-commerce sites, Madigan and his three-person team help founders scale their recipes for commercial production and create sales and distribution strategies. “It’s all about getting the product manufactured and finding buyers for it,” he says.
More than 100 food artisans have rented the space, about 20 of whom have opened shops or otherwise seen regional success. Ben Jacobsen is one of them. He spent 18 months at KitchenCru getting Jacobsen Salt Co., which sells locally harvested sea salt, off the ground.
“The energy in that place was incomparable,” says Jacobsen, whose 4-year-old company now has 35 employees. “It was just so much fun and inspiring to be in.”
Madigan, who recently opened a bagel shop and a wine bar of his own, allows startups to stay at KitchenCru as long as they need to; founders usually know when they’ve outgrown the space, he says. “One of the happiest days for me is when a client comes to me, big-eyed, and says, ‘I just quit my job to do this full time.’”