Thursday, March 31, 2011

Business as an Agent of World Benefit. Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen – Inspiring Entrepreneurship, Economic Development, and Sustained Employment

Case Western Reserve's Graduate School of Business includes a very cool program called Business as an Agent of World Benefit.

The purpose of Business as an Agent of World Benefit “is to discover, amplify and promote extraordinary business and society innovations that solve an environmental or social issue.”

The Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen and our Iowa County Area Economic Development Corp. are being recommended for our work in this field.

The amazing efforts of Tom and the Hodan Center's rock star food team (led by Annette Pierce, Food Service Director and Master of the Universe) created our Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen. What a wonderful feat!

The following is written by a new friend Jessica Hermsen, a graduate student in Organizational Development at Case Western Reserve University as a submission to the ‘Business as an Agent for Global Change’ program.

Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen – Inspiring Entrepreneurship, Economic Development, and Sustained Employment

Submitted to the Business as an Agent for World Benefit site for consideration on March 29, 2011 by Jessica Hermsen

The Business Innovation

Last July, the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen cut the ribbon on their newly renovated $1.5 million facility and opened its doors to local food entrepreneurs. The 10,000 square-foot state certified commercial kitchen and retail store was once the nation’s first fast food restaurant owned by a community rehabilitation center serving adults with disabilities, the Hodan Center. When the highway bypass went in, traffic through the small town of Mineral Point decreased and the Dairy Queen was forced to close its doors in 2007. Now, the building is getting a second life thanks to not only the Hodan Center, but also the Iowa County Area Economic Development Corporation, a non-profit organization funded by the county, industry, and private supporters.

The mission of the kitchen is to provide food entrepreneurs (restaurant owners, family farm owners, etc.) a state-certified commercial kitchen to professionally prepare their recipes for commercial sale. Additionally, existing food business can grow their enterprises and create new jobs using shared infrastructure, equipment, and services. Unlike other community kitchens, Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen customers can rent the facility by the hour and do their own production, or partner with the kitchen’s leadership to provide production staff and business support. The production staff is provided by the Hodan Center, giving adults with disabilities the opportunity to do meaningful work and earn income.

The kitchen is home to the already successful Papa Pat’s Farmhouse Recipes food line, 150 different bottled liquids and dry mixes sold in more than 700 stores. The Papa Pat’s Farmhouse Recipes food line was started in 2001 by the Hodan Center to raise revenue and provide more sustainable work for the center’s adults. Funding for the kitchen’s renovations was raised through private community supporters, grants, and low-interest loans.

The Impact of the Innovation

“Wisconsin is now the second largest vegetable growing state in the US but we leave at least one-third of our crop on the ground every year because it is bruised or not big enough for retail sale,” says Rick Terrien. Since processing equipment and opportunities are expensive, the kitchen allows vegetable “seconds” to be used in small quantity, affordable production runs. Not only does it bring more local foods to our tables, but also promotes economic development for the family farms and restaurant owners. What’s more is that the kitchen has a partner program to support business start-ups and expansions to take the risk out of trying a new business. And on the labor side, the kitchen’s partnership with the Hodan Center makes it equally unique in that it’s providing sustainable employment for adults with disabilities.

Already in it’s first year, the kitchen is successful. In fact, part of a product that was outsourced from a small local pasta manufacturer made it all the way to the White House Superbowl Party earlier this year. In fact, the city of Chicago has shown interested in the project as something they may explore for their school lunch programs. It’s been such a success that Rick is developing the model and already working on opening more kitchens in other Wisconsin towns.

Motivation or Purpose

Rick Terrien is the leader and prime motivator behind the kitchen. Rick is the first to say that he “doesn’t know jack about food”, but what he does know is business and how to launch an entrepreneurial start up. Prior to spearheading the kitchen, Rick launched two successful business that are still thriving today. One, a commercial art company that he said he worked for over 20 years while his kids were growing up, and the other, a unique innovation that recycles oil skimmed from coolant used in the manufacturing process. He holds 8 US patents and 1 international patent on the former innovation. The device that was used by all the major car manufacturers, also won him two Governor’s awards, a Fast 50 in 2004, and a National Society of Professional Engineers Award. Not bad for a company that started with only a $6k investment.

So Rick is no stranger to entrepreneurialism and is motivated by helping others start their own businesses. His dream is to launch “at least a million” new businesses from the kitchen. “The economy is really broken right now and so many people are wanting to start their own businesses,” comments Rick. “I also have 120 people with disabilities that really need protection and work in the community. I have to find a way to do this that is productive for both.”

Interviewer Experience

I had worked with the Hodan Center from a distance through my former company and even from a distance I could see the model was not sustainable. I had the idea to check in with the center for any ideas for this inquiry and was surprised and really inspired by their efforts to continue to thrive. Enter the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen and Rick Terrien.

The first thing you will notice about Rick is his passion for this project. But even deeper than that, you will see his enthusiasm for entrepreneurship as an agent for economic development and human sustainability. I was truly inspired by his desire to help others gain independence – to control their own lives through their own economic development. “I’ve never made a lot of money, but I got to raise my kids and we’re still friends. I couldn’t have bought that for all the money in the world,” says Rick. Many recent thought leaders have argued that if we are to solve poverty, we have to develop relationships with people to help them find opportunities to thrive. And this is what Rick is doing and loving it.


Many thanks Ms. Hermsen for the great writing about our Innovation Kitchen and our economic development work!

Soon we will be able to do this with a growing network of collaborative facilities across state lines and food growing regions.

At a recent food hub retreat hosted by Fresh Taste and Karen Lehman in Chicago a really wise thread emerged: We need to move from movements to organizations. Now.

The contribution of our Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen is to run the experiments and grow the work of economic and organizational development in ways that are sustainable and grow past all of us.

Thanks Ms. Hermsen and ‘Business as an Agent for World Benefit’

Download full text: Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen – Inspiring Entrepreneurship, Economic Development, and Sustained Employment

Business as an Agent for World Benefit.

Case Western Reserve University

Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen

Hodan Center

Iowa County Area Economic Development Corp. Come Grow With Us

Fresh Taste

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