I’ve been a fan of FoodLab from afar for a little under 2 years. When I say afar I mean that I’ve followed them on social media (or as my fiancé likes to say, I’ve been “lurking”), admiring their mission of growing an ecosystem of profitable food businesses that contribute to the sustainability of good food in Detroit. Being a proud foodie and food enthusiast, I knew this was a network I wanted to be a part of. I held back, however, because I wasn’t sure that I was the type of person FoodLab was designed for since I’m not a food entrepreneur.
In July, one day while scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, I saw a post advertising for a 4-week FoodLab workshop called, “Launching & Running Your Hobby Food Business.” The title of the workshop caught my attention. Not too long before seeing the post, I started toying around with the idea of starting a food-based side hustle. I read through the workshop description. The subject matter that would be covered in the sessions really solidified my decision to sign up. So, I eagerly registered.
I was excited about the first day of the workshop. I felt inspired being around a diverse group of people, hearing about their ideas and the ‘why’s’ for wanting to make their food-based business aspirations a reality. I’m not exaggerating when I say there was a diverse mix of people in my cohort. Out of 17 attendees, approximately 76% were women. Nearly 82% of the attendees self-identified their existing or future business as minority-owned, and 52% self-identified their existing or future business as women-owned. The youngest attendee was 22 and the oldest was 52. Education levels ranged from G.E.D or high school to graduate. There were folks who, like me, were starting at square one with an idea, those who have been catering for years or already had a product that they were selling, but looking for advice on how to take their business to the next level.
Over the next four weeks, I learned a great deal of valuable information. I learned that I could test the waters of running a food business by operating under Michigan’s Cottage Food Law. We touched on practicing a sales pitch and finding opportunities to sell your product. What really stood out to me was calculating your “COGS”, also known as cost of goods sold. It may sound silly, but attending this workshop made me approach the thought of starting a business differently. I started to ask myself questions I hadn’t before, like what would my label for my company look like? How would I package my product? What would my packaging look like?
Of course, the last session was a favorite of everyone’s – speed networking with Detroit and FoodLab member entrepreneurs. It was invaluable to pick the brains of these entrepreneurs, hearing a little bit about their early days and challenges they have overcame or are currently navigating. Regardless of what happens for me personally, attending this session has given me valuable information and breadcrumbs to go forward.
With the growing rate of food entrepreneurs and new food businesses popping-up across Detroit neighborhoods, owners are looking to develop a sense of community with their colleagues in the food industry. At FoodLab, we believe this interest has developed from a desire to exchange ideas, get assistance and tap into a support system to help get through the barriers and challenges of owning and operating a food business.
As we watch our members build lasting relationships within our community, we are now more certain than ever that success is really contingent on the networks that you are a part of. Every story of success is really a story of community. The question is, will you embrace the power of community.
Every successful entrepreneur needs a community – FoodLab Detroit is here to help you build yours.
This article was written by Brittany Hutson, a graduate of the FoodLab’s Summer 2017 Launching and Running a Hobby Food Business Class. During business hours, she is a user experience researcher at General Motors. In this role, she combines market research and ethnography, as well as design thinking, to advocate for users of GM’s mobile applications. That's not as exciting as working with food though. She is currently developing her hobby food business – tentatively called Chocolate Twist, a gourmet cookie venture that puts a creative spin on the traditional chocolate chip cookie.