Five Incubators Innovating New York City’s Food Systems

by Alexina Cather, MPH

By Samantha Schipani

Step aside, Silicon Valley, there are new start-ups in town! While the entrepreneurial spirit in its modern iteration tends to be reserved for technology innovators and their ilk, New York City has seen a flush of investment in up-and-coming food businesses. This is no surprise coming out of one of the culinary capitals of the world, but in an era of increasing urbanization and cutthroat capitalism, entrepreneurs aren’t just changing gastronomical palettes – they’re changing the food systems game.

All food start-ups must start somewhere, and that’s usually with an incubator or accelerator. In start-up lingo, “incubators” refers to companies that help brand new start-ups by providing services like management training and workspace, while “accelerators” take recently established start-ups to the next level. For food entrepreneurs, this means providing kitchen space, chef training, and the like. New York City boasts an exciting crop of food incubators and accelerators that are changing the way the city thinks about its food. These five just scratch the surface of what is a burgeoning field of food start-up scene.

 

Brooklyn FoodWorks

Food Systems Mission: To be a catalyst for economic development through holistic support of budding food entrepreneurs.

What Sets Them Apart: Brooklyn FoodWorks provides a wealth of ancillary services to help food start-ups navigate the business aspect of the food systems and build a network amongst entrepreneurs, including classes, events, and personalized mentorship.

Location: Brooklyn

Director: Edie Feinstein

Founded: 2015

Contact: [email protected]

Funding Provided: None

Services: Kitchen space, mentorship, classes/workshops, community of entrepreneurs, co-working space, distribution/sales help, wholesale purchasing assistance, market access

Business Type: 100 businesses currently ranging from packaged CPG products to meal delivery, catering and baking

Pitches: Prospective members can apply online here. Brooklyn FoodWorks will follow up with interview and tour, before signing a contract and going through orientations.

Focus on Healthy Foods: Not specifically, although current clients include healthy snacks made out of buckwheat (BuckWHAT!), to a turmeric ginger powder (Bija Bhar) to a raw energy ball (Ra Bliss Balls)

 

Chobani Food Incubator

Food Systems Mission: To promote the growth of companies taking on broken food systems to bring better food to more people not only through both investments and access to the Chobani network at industry expertise

What Sets Them Apart: Chobani’s business mission is focused on “DNNA,” or food that is “delicious, nutritious, natural, and accessible.” The incubator focuses on improving access to quality, natural food and fixing broken food systems. As such, the incubator focuses on entrepreneurs creating products that are accessible and affordable for all while also following within the DNNA model.

Location: Manhattan; New Berlin

Director: Jackie Miller

Founded: 2016

Contact: [email protected]

Funding: $25,000 equit-free grant

Services: Access to Chobani teams, executives, and experts via workshops and mentorship, exposure to food industry thought leaders and top retail partners, networking with Chobani Food Incubator peers, digital support and community engagement between on-site programs, regular remote program check-ins

Business Type: Packaged food or beverage products

Pitches: Apply online (applications for the second class open in May)

Focus on Healthy Foods: Yes

 

FoodFutureCo

Food Systems Mission: To scale-up small, established organizations that are providing unique products and solutions across food systems, from supply chain to consumer products

What Sets Them Apart: The world’s first scale-up accelerator for food businesses helps companies cross the treacherous chasm between visionaries and pragmatism, often considered the hardest hurdle in the start-up adoption process.

Location: Manhattan; Remote

Director: Gigi Lee Chang

Founded: 2016

Contact: [email protected]

Funding: No direct capital investment, but provides more than $100k of in-kind services which include advisory and consultative services with our core team and EIRs, access to our extensive mentor and advisor network, hands on workshop series, online content sessions and other networking events and participation

Services: Business stratgegy and vision, branding and marketing, growth and scale, operations and logistics, culture and team, governance and legal, financing

Business Type: Consumer products, online marketplace solutions, SaaS platforms, food hubs, supply chain solutions, food+tech and more

Pitches: Apply online at www.foodfuture.co

Focus on Healthy Foods: Yes, and on food supply chain to make healthy food more accessible

 

Bronx Cookspace

Food Systems Mission: To bring an affordable workspace and individualized technical assistance to small food businesses.

What Sets Them Apart: The kitchen is located inside the Urban Horizons affordable housing project and space can be rented for a modest price. The incubator aims to be inclusive in communities that are traditionally disenfranchised from the cutthroat New York City culinary scene and takes a holistic view of community development by offering the kitchen alongside youth development, job training, and mental health programs.

Location: The Bronx

Director: Marcus Gotay

Founded: 2010

Contact: [email protected]

Funding: None

Services: Affordable, flexible commercial kitchen space and one-on-one technical assistance (Kitchen Manager meets with every kitchen tenant at the beginning of their term to understand their product and their goals, and depending on their needs, offers ongoing tailored advice to establish and grow their business)

Business Type: Primarily packaged products or catering outfits

Pitches: Prospective candidates can apply online and then come in for an interview with our Kitchen Manager. Once their application is approved, the tenant must provide proof of license and insurance – both of which Bronx Cookspace helps them navigate – and then they can begin renting.

Focus on Healthy Foods: Though not an explicit goal, many of the entrepreneurs produce healthy foods, including gluten-free bakers, Paleo chefs, and caterers who put a healthy spin on traditional foods

 

HBK Incubates

Food Systems Mission: To mitigate start-up risk for growing food ventures in the capital-intensive industry while building a community of small food business owners.

What Sets Them Apart: As a recognizable and established brand, the Hot Bread Kitchen incubator provides access to a well-known market for distributing food products. Moreover, the incubator offers subsidized rates to make the program accessible to all; 30% of its members are low income and receive subsidies on kitchen rental and storage.

Location: Manhattan

Director: Jessamyn Rodriguez

Founded: 2011

Contact: [email protected]

Funding: No direct funding, but subsidizes rental expenses as much as 60%

Services: Kitchen space, storage (dry, refrigerated, freezer), business advising, and workshops

Business Type: Businesses across the food spectrum particularly low-income and women-owned businesses, including caterers, bakers, packaged goods makers, beverage, meal delivery

Pitches: Entrepreneurs interested are first encouraged to tour the space after which they are sent an electronic application.  When complete, compelling candidates are brought in in for interviews.

Focus on Healthy Foods: While it is not a mandate or a pre-requisite for entry, there are several healthy-focused ventures that operate out of our space.

 

Photo credit: Brooklyn FoodWorks

 

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