Friday, September 11, 2009

It's not a kitchen incubator.
It's an Innovation Kitchen.

Here in Wisconsin there is great interest in creating publicly available kitchen space to help small, local food enterprises come to life and grow. The short hand term for these efforts is 'kitchen incubators'. The model is that you can rent a state certified (expensive!) kitchen for a modest hourly rate and grow your own food business.

In our area, safety requires that foods produced for public sale need to be processed and packaged in a state inspected facility. Frankly this is a critical marketing benefit to be state certified. These inspections are probably required in most states, but I have not had the time to research.

The idea is to utilize public and private funds as available to create public shared-use kitchens as tools to enable local farmers, food enthusiasts, and food lovers of all kinds to become entrepreneurs.

I believe this idea will work for all kinds of locations. I see a very special place for this work in rural economic development where I spend my time.

I'm wrapped up in this subject at the moment. We have a public shared-use kitchen (kitchen incubator) opening in Iowa County early next year. It will be owned and operated by The Hodan Center, a wonderful enterprise celebrating and enriching the lives of people with disabilities. I am working with the Hodan Center on creating a public shared-use kitchen platform, available to the public when not used by Hodan activities.

I grew up with entrepreneurs, and I've been a working entrepreneur for 35 years. I honestly don't think I've ever seen a bigger, better or easier opportunity to explore entrepreneurship than in what I'm seeing now.

The Slow Money folks refer to these businesses as Small Food Enterprises (SFEs).

I dearly love this idea, but I don't think the phrase 'kitchen incubator' does this movement justice. The possibilities are much bigger and much more profound.

'Innovation Kitchen' is my term of art that embraces the new entrepreneurship possibilities of food. I am fully enchanted with what can happen from these kinds of platforms.

Creating a kitchen is not enough. Creating a network is what is needed. We are calling our new platform 'The Wisconsin Food Innovation Network', or, the Innovation Kitchen' for short.

In our area, we are all indebted to Mary Pat Carlson of the Farm Market Kitchen in Algoma, WI (linked below). Mary Pat pioneered this concept in Wisconsin and is making it work. Mary Pat is generously helping those of us with new kitchens in the planning and building stages understand what's required for these to succeed.

What excites me so much about this idea is that is speaks so clearly to the almost endless possibilities for entrepreneurship these certified kitchen platforms provide.

I've been saying for a long time that this is the Renaissance Age of entrepreneurship and that it's just beginning. I believe our Innovation Kitchen can become a model for enabling all kinds of economies, but the economic development benefits can be especially transformational for rural and agricultural regions.

Our new Wisconsin Food Innovation Network will focus on creating a sustainable platform for creating and growing food-based enterprises. I see the network aspect of this as creating, in advance, relationships for the kitchen with buyers, vendors, professional advisers, and entrepreneurship assets.

The Wisconsin Food Innovation Network will open its Innovation Kitchen in Mineral Point, WI in early 2010. We are planning the public-use protocols with the idea of learning what is most sustainable and reproducible over time and in other locations.

I'll be dedicating our first Iowa County Entrepreneur and Inventor Club meeting to a wide ranging discussion of the kitchen with Hodan staff available for questions. That meeting will be Wednesday, Sept. 23 in Dodgeville, WI at the Stonefield Apartments. Doors open at 5:30 PM. Meeting starts at 6.

I have focused these posts recently on our work to help create our Iowa County Initiative, Driftless Foods. This is designed to create a planned system for a local-foods processing cluster in a discreet region. The Innovation Kitchen fits this project hand in glove. It is my belief that over time, some entrepreneurs working from the Innovation Kitchen will 'graduate' into bigger revenue roles and need bigger processing and support capabilities. We will have that infrastructure waiting for them with Driftless Foods.

The time has come to roll this out big time. I am SO looking forward to working with and supporting the Hodan Center and the Wisconsin Food Innovation Network.

I will use this space to report back on what worked, what didn't, and (oh my!) all those possibilities….

The Hodan Center

The Farm Market Kitchen

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