CLiCK, Inc. (Commercially Licensed Cooperative Kitchen) is a 501c3 non-profit in Windham, Connecticut, with a mission to Grow, Cook, Share. The organization recognizes the historical and institutional injustices of the American food system and aims to grow a locally-based, just, healthy, and sustainable food economy. CLiCK’s shared-use commercial kitchen provides opportunities for farmers and culinary entrepreneurs of all incomes to incubate food-based businesses while improving community health and vitality by teaching gardening, culinary arts, nutrition, and other food-related classes, all informed by a social justice perspective.
Initially built over 50 years ago for the Knights of Columbus, the CLiCK facility now supports over 30 kitchen member businesses, ranging from well-established year-round businesses to farmer’s markets and food truck vendors to those just beginning on the certifications required to establish their businesses. However, challenges limit the organization’s ability to upgrade the facility to support a growing user base, integrate new technologies and equipment, and support processing and production needs sought by the local producer community.
Partnering with New Venture Advisors
New Venture Advisors was brought on board to evaluate CLiCK’s operational model and the feasibility of introducing crop processing as a service and production space within the facility. The feasibility study also evaluated the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the local small business and agricultural community and how CLiCK could respond by integrating economic growth into their planning process. CLiCK was awarded a Rural Business Development Grant in 2021 to support this work with New Venture Advisors.
The feasibility study focused on two key stakeholder groups: producers and small businesses, especially BIPOC entrepreneurs. Stakeholders shared the challenges and strengths within the local food system and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. New Venture Advisors also worked with local agricultural and economic development organizations to identify programs, services, and potential collaborations that could benefit the kitchen and its users.
New Venture Advisors designed a facility model in response to their input, allowing CLiCK to expand and diversify its spaces and offerings over a three-phase, multi-year development timeline. The plan proposes expanding space for existing users, integrating processing and event space to diversify revenues to build financial sustainability for the facility, and introducing opportunities for more producers and a diverse community of makers to grow the facility’s membership.
• Phase 1 focuses on improving overall facility conditions to service the needs of existing users and prepare for expansion. This includes building upgrades such as roof repairs, utility upgrades, loading dock relocation, and preliminary architecture and engineering plans.
• Phase 2 focuses on reallocating and adding storage spaces, upgrading equipment, including electric conversions, and integrating a scullery space to support better sanitation and upkeep. This will increase functional space to allow more concurrent users and diversify equipment to attract new types of businesses and users.
• Phase 3 was the most ambitious – CLiCK’s desire to increase opportunities that support local producers and create new revenue streams that could help make the facility self-sustaining in the long term. This is the largest development phase supporting the conversion of the teaching kitchen to a self-contained crop processing space, the addition of an accessible office and meeting space on the upper level, and the redesign of the teaching and event space on the main level.
The study also required financial modeling to determine the redesign’s long-term financial and operational feasibility and present a strategic vision for the facility, which will aid in fundraising for an estimated $1.7M investment for construction, equipment, and working capital. The redesign and report are available for interested parties with CLiCK’s advisors and board consent.
New Venture Advisors provided CLiCK with actions to help its leadership team take the project from pre-development into implementation.
• Formalizing relationships with partners, existing clients, and potential clients (especially within the local/regional producer community) to secure commitments against the revenue plan to share with investors, funders, and stakeholders to support capital needs for the project.
• Commence fundraising by creating a fundraising plan to secure diverse streams of capital from both public and private investors, especially investors interested in the mission and values central to the project.
• Finalize facility design and engage a local architecture firm to proceed into final architectural renderings to begin implementation.
Photo courtesy of CLiCK, Inc.