Mission: Small Business Application for Kitchen Incubator www.kitchenincubator.com Lucrece Borrego, Founder firstname.lastname@example.org
Tell us about your business; how successful is it and why is it unique? * When Kitchen Incubator (“KI”) opened we were the first incubator kitchen in Texas, and one of only a handful around the country. Inspired to create a hybrid of existing non-profit programs with independent concepts, I launched KI to marry my passion for the food industry with a background in entrepreneurial development and business management. Since then, over a dozen incubator kitchens have opened throughout the country, many inspired by KI and many relying on our advisory to help build out a facility and programs tailored to their community.
In Houston, we have directly helped launch 18 food businesses, seven that have graduated to their own facilities, and have grown an additional six existing concepts that rely on our facility and services to successfully run their businesses. Our graduates have gone on to build upon relationships made at KI, several of them partnering directly with other clients they met while working in our kitchens. Additionally, we have helped launch dozens of concepts through our workshops and advisory services, many in Houston but as far away as London and Portland. Many other existing businesses have also used our facilities to reach new markets, host career- making events and take their ideas to new levels. We have done all of this in the last two years.
Currently, we are pushing the boundaries further to create the world’s first brewery incubator, extending our concept to a burgeoning sector within the food and beverage industry. We are also building a national movement within our fledgling sub-industry to facilitate cross-pollination of ideas and learning experiences for incubator kitchens across the country so that we can work together to most effectively foster culinary entrepreneurship. Within our local community, we are building a new organization to help extend arts and culture organizations to the culinary arts.
Our success stories in this emerging industry have been truly phenomenal and we are ready to take them to the next level. We have seen the highest level of client success rates amongst incubator kitchens and look to extend the knowledge and experience that made that happen to other kitchens across the country. As our programs develop, we will continue to add to our facilities, allowing us to reach even more entrepreneurs and provide more opportunities. KI is not only a pioneer within our industry, but we are a builder of pioneers who will go on to lead movements for positive change for years to come.
How is your business involved with the community you serve? * “This is not just a kitchen, but a community” are the words written on the kitchen entrance to our facilities in downtown Houston. Meant to encourage kitchen users to actively engage with one another, we also take these words to heart. I created KI to empower entrepreneurs, but have also learned that food can play a much broader role in the large community. In addition to serving as a full-service entrepreneurial development incubator for the culinary industry, KI also provides an industry community center, advocate for local and sustainable foods and a link between industry players and organizations that need their support.
As a community hub for the local food industry, we bring together like-minded individuals to create positive change. KI serves as a liaison between local food crafters and non-profit organizations. Through food and facility donations as well as volunteer coordination, we help theatres, workshops, museums and other organizations raise funds and awareness. We are proud sponsors of our theatre district, park revitalization efforts, arts cooperatives, TEDTalks and community festivals. Organizations come to us not only for food donations and chef volunteer services, but also to use our facility as a unique event space where the working kitchen and the guest experience can be uniquely integrated in a convenient central location. Now, as we work to achieve licensing for beer and wine service as well as brewing, our facility will provide an even broader range of event services to community organizations.
Our positive role in our community is at the core of all that we do. As strong supporters of local and sustainable foods, we work directly with our farmer’s markets and local farms to help facilitate sustainable sourcing for our clients. Our facility allows many businesses that would not otherwise be able to exist, launch their concepts at local farmer’s markets. We help them understand what it takes to be part of the markets and learn to source locally. Facilitation of coordering helps our producers as well as the farms to make a larger profit and also serves to develop key relationships along the path of food creation.
Members of the KI family believe in achieving global change through the way we think about food, its producers and the way that we eat. By providing an environment where small businesses that would not otherwise be able to exist can launch and grow, we are helping our community to eat better and live better.
What would a $250k grant mean to your business plan and how will you utilize the funds to ensure long-term growth and stability? * We are currently entering Phase 2 of our business plan and in the process of raising funds for new programs, management and entering a new industry sector. As such, the receipt of this grant would put us forward nearly an entire year on our implementation calendar, creating opportunities for small businesses that are needed now, but may otherwise take many months to develop. A grant award to Kitchen Incubator is not an investment in one single business, but more so, a direct investment in dozens of small entrepreneurs that will rely on KI to make their dreams of business ownership come true for years to come.
What types of challenges can you identify with your plan and how will you overcome them? * As a pioneer in a new industry, and still a young business, our road is paved with many challenges. I have always believed that there is no challenge that cannot be overcome with hard work and have carried Kitchen Incubator through launch and the last few years on my back through all of the obstacles. However, I have struggled to fund KI at the levels necessary to implementing all of our programming goals. As a result, our ambitious endeavour has stagnated in the last several months as I turn to focus on fundraising to execute our programs within the nonprofit sector and allocate more time to some of the more immediately profitable, but less innovative, aspects of our business model. To overcome these challenges will take time, as the concept adapts and slowly grows organically.
Entering the brewing industry has incredible potential, but is also fraught with high barriers to entry and entirely new relationships to develop. In preparation for this step, I have began forming a solid network of key industry players to serve on our board and work directly with our organization to develop mutually beneficial programming. I have devised a marketing strategy that utilizes industry events and relationships to promote without financial investment. I have also created dual membership structures that will serve to bring income into the project at the launch stage and organized creative fundraising events that rely on community members to volunteer and help fund specific project goals.
Our biggest obstacle has always been market education, and in self-funding and building out KI myself, I have not had the time I needed to devote to promotion and creating a valuable network within my industry. The Mission Small Business Grant would change this entirely. I already have several candidates for assuming the manager role, yet, without this grant, we are still at least two years away from achieving the income stream that would make this possible. Without the grant, we will need to focus on fundraising in order to execute much of our programming through the non-profit path. We have turned to this path, rather than pursue investors, because we think that the unique community development role that we have to offer is best suited to the nonprofit sector. However, our concept has incredible growth potential if we were to be able to overcome initial marketing hurdles. We have never hired professional marketing services, even for basic web development or spent a single dollar on advertising. While I have been able to perform these roles at a competitive level, I need to allocate many of my daily tasks to an effective manager in order to promote the concept effectively.
With the help of the Mission Grant, I hope to hire, diversify and create innovative programs that will serve to effectively market and promote our concept while leading our journey into a new industry sector.
Describe the talent on your team and how they make your business successful. * Work at KI is ultimately an act of passion. We are a group of people who care about our community, about make a difference and about paving the way for a better future. Yet we are also adventurers, who live to take creative risks and make sacrifices for art and innovation. We bring together people with backgrounds in finance, engineering, organizational behaviour, marketing and of course, culinary, to provide the broad skill set that can carry our unique organization forward. Our Executive Director for Project Brew, our new foray into the world of craft brewing, is a gifted engineer with a spectacular ability to innovate within budget and time constraints. Although it is only a part time endeavour for him, he puts in far more than most do into their full time careers. A chronic innovator, he shares my role in creatively fueling the organization with new ideas and creative problem solving.
Associate Director of Member Services, with a masters in Organizational Behaviour and years of catering experience, ensures that KI clients are getting the services they need and making full use of their time at KI. She also leads program outreach, assessing client fit within our facility and programs as well as promoting all that we have to offer to relevant organizations.
Behind the scenes, my initial silent partner plays a critical role in administrative and launch support. Whether it is coordinating travel arrangements or working through the night to paint a wall the day before a media dinner, she comes through with inspiring agility.
As Executive Director, I bounce between each of these roles while serving to coordinate the many pieces into a cohesive whole. My education in business management and entrepreneurial development allows me to effectively manage the organization and serve as an invaluable resource to everyone involved. At the same time, my restaurant experience allows me to understand the day to day of our client businesses. I also to continue to rely on my investment banking skill set - network, manage critical details and embrace the inevitability of working around the clock to meet deadlines.
Most incredible of all, our team works largely as volunteers, receiving little or no direct financial compensation for their work. In lieu of salary we provide our team with a facility to run their own separate businesses, whether it be cooking, event planning, brewing or leading culinary team building workshops. An unusual symbiotic relationship, we have truly built a community that extends far beyond the normal relationships of employer and employee.
Additional relevant information you would like to share * An investment in Kitchen Incubator is not an investment in a single business, but rather, hundreds of small food businesses that will grow through our direct programs, or those of other kitchens that we help launch across the nation. We are pioneers in a new industry, and as with any new idea, the road is long, hard and risky. We have not had access to traditional capital, but instead have been funded through a mix of our President's life savings and the generous volunteer work of those who believe in what we are trying to achieve. A former investment banker for Chase, I genuinely believe in what Chase is working to achieve in fostering long term viable economic growth through small business development. My work at Chase provided me with the skill set to be a part of that movement and I would relish the opportunity to have Chase play yet another key role in achieving this success.
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