New Venture Advisors is privileged to work alongside powerful forces driving progress toward building food systems we can all be proud of. These forces—our collaborators, partners, clients, visionaries—are leaders in changing how we think about food. As a returning feature of our blog, we voice our gratitude and place the spotlight on the people and organizations who are creating valuable, lasting food system impact.

In 2017, New Venture Advisors had the opportunity to complete a market study for The Hatchery, a visionary food business incubator opening this week on the west side of Chicago (and we are so thrilled about it!). It will be the one of the largest food incubator facilities to date in the United States. Led by its mission “Growing Food Startups. Growing Community.” The Hatchery will “enable local entrepreneurs to build and grow successful food and beverage businesses and provide job training and placement programs, which in turn create sustainable economic growth and new job opportunities.” Its leaders understand the barriers that prevent growth in the industry and are committed to providing the holistic support food entrepreneurs need, as the road to success can be isolating and financially limiting. By creating a space where innovators from every part of the sector can come together, The Hatchery will provide emotional support, HR guidance, and an atmosphere that builds on the collective creativity. Furthermore, The Hatchery is committed to growing the local economy through job training and placement programs.

We had a chance to talk with CEO, Natalie Shmulik, about the many ways The Hatchery will support Good Food ideals, impact the Chicago market and strengthen the local food system.

  1. The Space: The Hatchery started as a virtual incubator. For three years they tested the market and led workshops using their own curriculum designed for early-stage food and beverage entrepreneurs, and addressing trends and regulatory matters in the food industry. Through collaborations with Accion Chicago, ICNC and other local stakeholders, The Hatchery is opening a 67,000 square foot facility with 56 private production-ready kitchens, a large shared kitchen, walk-in dry/cold/freezer storage, business planning services and a dynamic co-working space for meetings and events. Already with over 100 members, The Hatchery provides affordable space for rent (one of the largest barriers to enter the industry), technical support, and networking opportunities for early stage food businesses.
  2. Role in the Community: The Hatchery is located in East Garfield Park, an under-served neighborhood that needs better access and opportunities for those looking for jobs. Not only will The Hatchery provide affordable space for food startups, it is committed to improving access and providing benefits for local residents. For example, the Rick Bayless Culinary Training Center, with support from ICNC, will run a workforce development program to prepare high school and college-age students for careers in the culinary industry. Graduates from the program will be able to intern at partnering local restaurants. Other ways The Hatchery will have a positive presence in the neighborhood is by offering residents free membership to attend events and trainings including free ServSafe trainings, hosting a weekly farmer’s market, and making 272 hours of shared kitchen time available free or at a reduced rate to businesses from the East Garfield Park community.
  3. The Vision: The Hatchery plans to be an epicenter for innovation by building an environment of collaboration and integration across the Chicago food industry. To meet their goal of creating and sustaining 900 jobs in the food and beverage industry, The Hatchery is making sure their members and residents have access to unique resources to help them succeed and scale:
  • Accion Chicago, a microlender, will be onsite to provide small business loans as startups expand their capacity.
  • Large consumer products companies such as Kellogg, Griffith Foods, and Conagra Foods have joined as sponsors, providing financial resources, expertise and potential collaborations and ventures with The Hatchery and its members.

The Hatchery’s goal is to have 70% occupancy in the permanent spaces by the end of year one. The tenants, known as residents as they make it their homebase, along with The Hatchery team, will be the drivers of pushing and leading the food and beverage industry forward.

Visit The Hatchery’s website for more information about how to support entrepreneurs who are creating jobs in the food and beverage industry and sponsor scholarships for community residents to attend trainings. Your donation to The Hatchery can provide an entrepreneur with:

  • $20: An hour of shared kitchen time to produce their products.
  • $40: Admission to the “Starting a Food Business” cornerstone course.
  • $100: ServSafe training and one hour of one-on-one coaching with an industry expert.
  • $250: ServSafe training and an annual membership to The Hatchery.

 Whatcom County Food System Plan

In 2021, the Whatcom County Food System Committee conducted a community food assessment that pointed to key opportunities to build a more robust and resilient regional food system. New Venture Advisors partnered with Whatcom County staff and the Food System Committee to draft a Whatcom County Food System Plan that builds upon these findings. This Plan focuses on five key goals for building a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient food system, and was informed by an inclusive community engagement process. The Food System Plan will provide the county with a policy roadmap that will strengthen the local food system for years to come. (2023)

 Whatcom Local Food Campus

The Whatcom Community Foundation invests in activities and organizations that improve the ability of people to help themselves, increase connections among people, and take cooperative approaches to community issues. WCF is exploring the development of a local food campus on a waterfront property that would become a multi-tenant site, anchored by a collaborative production kitchen benefitting food access, school system, and community organizations. The goal is strengthening Whatcom County’s local food system by promoting health equity, forging tangible strategic connections between food production organizations, and helping farmers connect with institutional markets. The facility will also feature an incubation kitchen, demonstration kitchen, event and classroom space, collaborative office and conference facilities, and housing.  New Venture Advisors developed the business case for this ambitious project and continues to support its development through engagement and operational development. (2023)