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The business of food

Entrepreneurship program grads share their creations and pitches

Sandra Larson | 11/22/2017, 10:29 a.m.
First piloted in Fall 2016, Food Biz 101 is an accelerator specially designed to address the nuts and bolts of ...
Kenya Madry of Scrumptious Food Truck dishes up a sample plate. Photo by Sandra Larson

High above the evening bustle of Fan Pier in the Seaport District last Wednesday, Paulette Ngachoko of Hapi African Gourmet stood behind a table pouring creamy peanut sauce into tiny cups for sampling with rice or bread. A native of Cameroon who came to the U.S. 20 years ago, Ngachoko aims to introduce “ready-to-eat African-style food” here by bottling this traditional Cameroonian sauce — made from her mother’s recipe — and selling it to restaurants, institutions and stores.

On the Web

CommonWealth Kitchen: http://bit.ly/1j6Bc7L

Lawyer’s Committee Economic Justice Project: lawyerscom.org/projects/economic-justice

Get in touch: The next Food Biz 101 session begins in February 2018. For information and to be placed on an interest list for the session, send a note to foodbiz101@lawyer...

Rory Forde displays miniature versions of his signature pies.

Rory Forde displays miniature versions of his signature pies.

Participants in the Food Biz 101 pitch competition offered samples of their products. Paulette Ngachoko prepares portions of her Cameroonian peanut sauce.

Participants in the Food Biz 101 pitch competition offered samples of their products. Paulette Ngachoko prepares portions of her Cameroonian peanut sauce.

Vincent Li’s alcohol-flavored Eatable Popcorn won second place in the pitch competition.

Vincent Li’s alcohol-flavored Eatable Popcorn won second place in the pitch competition.

At another table, Rory Forde offered samples of pumpkin bread, chocolate-coated cheesecake squares and several varieties of flaky-crust pie. Born and raised in Roxbury, the 33-year-old says he has been baking for friends and family for 15 years, and now aims to turn his passion into a business. With a plan to sell at area farmers markets and seek a storefront space, Forde hopes to locate Rory’s Pie Shop & Bakery somewhere in Dorchester, Mattapan or Roslindale.

“There aren’t a lot of pie shops in Boston,” Forde said. “I’m looking to showcase a homemade style.”

Ngachoko and Forde are part of a small group of aspiring food business entrepreneurs who have just completed Food Biz 101, a 12-week program co-organized by the food business incubator CommonWealth Kitchen and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice.

Targeted accelerator

First piloted in Fall 2016, Food Biz 101 is an accelerator specially designed to address the nuts and bolts of starting a food-related business. Classes cover recipe scaling, cost of goods, labeling regulations, licensing and permitting as well as business practices such as public relations, marketing and entity formation.

While starting a business from scratch is challenging in any sector, food businesses bring some unique challenges with their typically low profit margins and complex permitting, sales and distribution systems. And for people who lack easy access to funding sources and networks of business contacts, the climb to success can be especially steep.

But once the entry hurdles are overcome, food businesses can offer owners a personally satisfying path to wealth-building and bring job opportunities to local communities.

“They’re powerful engines for closing the opportunity gap,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice. His organization’s Economic Justice Project works to help people in low-income communities develop sustainable businesses by connecting entrepreneurs to pro bono legal services.

For this latest round of Food Biz 101, which began in August, 40 people applied and 15 were accepted, a cohort that was 90 percent people of color and 60 percent women. Ultimately, 11 enrolled in the program, and on Nov. 15, nine graduates were on hand to display their products — from Mexican mole sauce to Sicilian arancini to alcohol-infused popcorn — and deliver their two-minute pitch before an audience and a panel of judges.