Sometimes, someone starts a business by accident. A friend bakes cupcakes for another friend’s event, and they’re fantastic. People at a party ask for the recipe. Even better, they ask if she’ll make cupcakes for their party or corporate event. Before she knows it, your friend is baking up a storm, from her own kitchen, and bringing in money she wasn’t expecting. From such humble beginnings come the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
Not so fast. This is a great start-up story, but it is destined to stop quite short if just one person gets sick from your cupcakes. As I recently wrote about keeping your home-based business legal, there are licenses needed for most business, especially ones that serve food. There are even different licenses for wholesale and retail sale in many states. And many of these licenses require equipment and procedures that would be financially prohibitive and keep our friend from starting her cupcake business in the first place.
That’s why kitchen incubators are all the rage. Take the Hot Bread Kitchen in New York’s Harlem neighborhood. Hot Bread is the anchor tenant, but others benefit from their success. The two production kitchens, prep kitchens, and storage facilities provide space for people with small, artisanal and ethnic food businesses to make the transition from their own kitchens to a fully equipped professional facility. Training and assistance are facilitated in a city-sponsored arrangement that also provides access to staff to help with business plans, sales, operations and market research.
Across the river in Brooklyn, students at Kingsboro Community College’s Culinary Arts program, including people taking continuing education classes, can use their kitchen incubator to develop a food business. According to Amy Cortese in Edible Brooklyn, the incubator even helps businesses get the 20-C, a required business license that NY State requires to sell food at retail.
From NYC all the way down to Texas, incubators exist to help the culinary-minded start a business. Head to Houston, where you can attend Food Business Boot Camp and then tour the Kitchen Incubator space, book time in the kitchen and start making cupcakes by the truck load. They also provide mentoring, networking and advisory services. This is very helpful for someone who’s great with a rolling-pin and challenged when it comes to balancing the books and forecasting market demand for a product. Houston’s Relish is a graduate of the incubator, and provides “slow food” created locally.
In San Francisco, La Cocina cultivates “low-income food entrepreneurs as they formalize and grow their businesses by providing affordable commercial kitchen space, industry-specific technical assistance and access to market and capital opportunities,” according to their site. This particular program focuses on businesses with a maximum of 5 employees and $35k in assets or less. The program hosts over 30 businesses, including, yes, a cupcake caterer who took pastry and decoration classes so she could create new kinds of cupcakes.
If you’re more business savvy and know how to create your own business plan and develop your company, the Culinary Incubator sources almost 300 kitchens in their database, which can be used by small businesses to cook a product, with less of the advisory and services pitch (though they do offer those services as well).
So, if you’re at that party, and someone loves your cupcakes, jump onto your computer, pick a business name, and find your local kitchen incubator. Someone is dying to purchase your triple-fudge and peanut butter infused cupcakes. Wow, that sounds good. Send me some when they’re ready, please?