WHAT WE WANT TO ACHIEVE
We want to offer a comprehensive two-phase food entrepreneurship course that takes our students from concept to the actualization of starting their own businesses. The two-phase course is designed to provide our students with not only a fundamental understanding of business practices, but also with 1-on-1 mentorship and hands-on support as they make their way towards launching their own businesses.
The Phase I course will offer a food business fundamentals training course followed by a longer duration Phase II, which offers 1-on-1 mentoring for students who have completed Phase I and are deemed ready to take their food business ideas to market. The amount we are able to raise will determine which phases we will be able to implement -- achieving our tipping point ($10,000) will allow us to implement Phase I. Reaching our ultimate goal ($40,000) will allow to us to also implement two rounds of Phase I and one round of Phase II.
Phase I will provide an introduction to business concepts and business development skills, as well as hands-on experience working in a professional commercial kitchen that will give students the confidence and fundamental skills to either gain employment in the foodservice industry and/or begin developing their own businesses.
Examples of course offerings include:
- “Business 101” class including: business regulations, finance, and budgeting
- “Marketing 101” class including: marketing, brand development, & logo design
- Lecture from an entrepreneur guest speaker
- Participation in culinary events in the Bay Area
- Procurement field trip to local marketplace
- Commercial kitchen orientation
- Food safety course (followed by a food handlers certification exam)
Our program concludes with a 2-day practicum in food business that requires students to complete a final project that includes working in assigned teams to: develop their own product; write a recipe; calculate food costs; determine product pricing, and develop branding, including a logo, for their product.
If a student shows promise and commitment, and has the desire to start a business, he or she will be invited to move on to the Phase II course. In Phase II, students will work directly with entrepreneurs via a mentorship program in which they will receive 1-on-1 counseling as they work toward launching their own businesses – in many cases, the sale of food products via farmers’ markets and / or retail outlets. Students will receive more detailed instruction on marketing- and distribution-related topics and will attend events aimed at providing networking opportunities, resulting in actual sales.
WHY OUR PROJECT IS IMPORTANT
Refugees new to the United States face limited access to resources and as a result, often initially face challenges in entering the workforce as well as limited educational opportunities. The roughly 400 refugees resettled by IRC Oakland each year face an array of challenges in their quest for long-term economic self-sufficiency in their new home. Language barriers, cultural differences, and a lack of work history in the United States can make the American financial system and workforce intimidating and inaccessible. Even for those who do find work, it is often within industries that can only provide minimum wage earnings and offer little room for professional growth. Ongoing data collection finds that the median annual income of a 3.5 person family resettled in Oakland is $20,833, which is below the 2014 Poverty Guidelines.
Given the incredible expertise that refugees and other immigrants bring to the U.S., self-employment can be an attractive option for skilled individuals to pursue their passions and make a living. However, the food industry, and food entrepreneurship in particular, has high entry costs, making it difficult for refugees to see their aspirations through. The fees for utilizing kitchen space, burden of regulations on food vendors, start-up expenses for launching a business, and tough competition for product placement within retail outlets may present insurmountable hurdles. However, with access to a commercial kitchen space, fundamental business skills and a thorough understanding of health and food-safety regulations, plus connections to 1-on-1 mentors and potential retail outlets, our course can empower recently-arrived refugees to tackle these issues successfully.
Participants in the inaugural Phase I course included 13 refugees and immigrants from Cuba, Mexico, Nepal, Burma, Somalia, Eritrea, Iraq, China, and Hong Kong. Originally, Deepa and Sean designed the course to accommodate 8-10 students, but later found that the demand for the summer 2015 courses was much higher than anticipated. After stretching their resources to include 13 participants, they stretched even further to launch a special second cohort for 6 very motivated students who waited for months to join.
Remaining applicants and other community members have expressed a strong interest in taking the Phase I course, and several of the summer and fall 2015 Phase I students wish to continue the program in Phase II. However, New Roots and Bloom lack the funding to offer another session of Phase I or to initiate Phase II. We have launched a StartSomeGood campaign in hopes of bridging this funding gap.
Thus far, after having completed two full Phase I courses, we've seen a 100% graduation rate, with many of our students moving on to pursue additional educational endeavors, gain employment in the food industry, or develop their business ideas in preparation for Phase II -- which we hope to run early next year after our crowdfunding campaign ends.