Hungry For Change: food business incubation in North Minneapolis in partnership with NEON
What has been most instrumental to your progress?:
Weekly (or more) one-on-one coaching sessions were all important and instrumental in giving our participants hands on training and personal services. This personal approach was an integral component in educating internal staff of necessary experiential training needed to best assist participants through business development and management skills.
Finance 101, Accounting/Bookkeeping Basics, Legal Entity/Licensing, Menu Refinement/Pricing, POS, Marketing, Social Media, Branding: These 2-4 hour sessions were instrumental in assessing each participant's’ individual knowledge and the other group members as general business information was shared. During the sessions participants would network and help each other as well.
Having resources, templates, books and software for participants at the NEON office assisted participants by providing additional education and resources to further equip business owners with tools needed to be successful.
Marketplace Opportunities like Eat on the Avenue, NEON Catering, Pop-Up Boutique, Members Lunch, and private events provided participants with additional revenue, built clientele, offered viability testing of products/pricing, and time for staff to assess the overall performance of participants. The marketplace opportunities are also an excellent way to build community and provide a variety of local food options for North Minneapolis residents.
Taking time to understand the needs, wants, limitations, and goals of our small business kitchen members so as to be able to redefine the availability of our shared-use kitchen to meet these needs. This also helped us adjust our fee structures to allow more small businesses to get started (lowering the financial entry barrier). Working together with NEON staff to develop the criteria for the food business incubator program worked well. Launching a new online platform for using the shared-used kitchen made it possible the increase of members (going from 32 max to 48 members).
Key lessons learned:
The pilot program helped us understand that going forward we should be very clear with participants that the program is an all or nothing deal, and that the steps defined are all equally important, and that it is not up to each participant to define what they will do or not do. The acceptance should be conditioned in the future on a demonstrated willingness to move forward with the whole program (by providing info/data upfront for example). Now that we have the pilot behind us, we also understand the workload generated, for us and participants alike. A broader and deeper array of services should be provided; in the pilot we focused on the basics but more is needed. Defining and tracking tangible KPI’s will be very important, and sharing them with the whole team. The pilot helped us understand the interrelatedness of personal and professional lives of our participants, as for many the personal lives had a deep impact on the business outcomes. NEON and AFC should create a better communication framework beyond face to face meetings (e.g. online collaboration in addition to bi weekly touch bases).
Financial education and assistance is CRUCIAL: We underestimated the need for financial education and services. None of the businesses were using a reliable or consistent bookkeeping/accounting system. Getting our participants organized and creating new habits of budgeting, cash projections, financial reporting and bookkeeping has been very challenging.
Shortfalls of each organization: The pilot program has also shed light on the importance of each organization to identify specific roles and obligations within the program and to make sure they have the proper staff, resources, facilities, etc. to effectively support the participants. NEON and AFC evaluated, refined and improved our policies and practices. The pilot was successful because of our mistakes, and what we learned from them.
Planning: We recognize the importance of long-term planning as an integral component to programmatic success. Through the pilot program, we now recognize the process-related improvements and have a greater understanding of the needs of each participant. Rather than a “re-active” model we are creating a “pro-active” model to ensure programmatic success.
Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving:
Every aspect of this program has been inclusive, collaborative and resourceful. Both organizations bring valuable resources to the program and they have complemented each other
well. Not only have both organizations relied on each other to provide expertise and/or services but we have also included additional community organizations, businesses and residents in our
programs and marketplace opportunities. The Northside is creating a sustainable and collaborative system of organizations, businesses and residents to initiate people and solution-
driven success in the community. Resources are also limited and our organizations recognize the importance of efficiency and effectiveness in every program or service we offer forthcoming.
Other key elements of Community Innovation:
Our agility and capacity to be nimble and shift based on in-the-moment new information has contributed to our innovative way of working with the businesses and creating new market opportunities for them and the residents here. The food business owners in North Minneapolis as well as the greater Twin Cities need business development services. Especially in regard to subject matters as finance, bookkeeping and general business management. There is potential to reach a larger group of business owners throughout the Twin Cities as well.
Understanding the problem:
Yes. We have learned that the personal lives of our businesses tended to get in the way of them successfully completing certain program components or complying with our requirements. We have learned more about how individual/personal circumstances play a major role in the demographic of our businesses, and see how case management and other non-business support services could be an innovative and complimentary component to this work. The movement of business ownership is growing, and we have found that many people who have started their own food businesses most likely do not have the general business development/management skills to sustain and/or grow their business.
If you could do it all over again...:
Research and observation in order to identify the “success” of this program at a variety of levels is important. We understand business owners are human and change can be difficult. Learning
new skills (even to improve their businesses) can take more time than we may think, but being patient and implementing organizational change-related strategies will help to ensure a more
likelihood of long-term success.
We would have enlisted more outside resources from the start to be able to provide services to participants but not need to recreate the wheel. There are many resources that already exist that we can tap into, while focusing on creating the framework of the program and making the connections. It would have been better if we had provided clearer, more realistic view of the work ahead to participants so we don’t waste their time and ours. We should have made clear what the consequences would be of not following the program; not be “too nice”, as the real business world will not be.