2016-11-01 / Spotlight News

Culinary accelerator aims to elevate small businesses

By Don Manley


The future Culinary Accelerator building that will be converted into a 5,274-squarefoot, state-of-the-art, culinary kitchen, food processing and packing facility is scheduled to open in May 2017 to assist businesses in the creation of food products. 
Contributed The future Culinary Accelerator building that will be converted into a 5,274-squarefoot, state-of-the-art, culinary kitchen, food processing and packing facility is scheduled to open in May 2017 to assist businesses in the creation of food products. Contributed Denise Peterson’s dream of operating a specialty food business has been just that, a dream, due to start-up costs, facility needs and other business requirements.

But that’s changing now that she has connected with the Florida Culinary Accelerator @ Immokalee, a state-of-the-art kitchen, food processing and packing facility scheduled to open in May.

The Culinary Accelerator will operate from an Immokalee Regional Airport warehouse that is being converted for its new use.

Shared-use food processing space for wide range of hot and cold products, produce, sauces, baked goods, juices and beverages will be provided. There will also be an 18-month, educational and mentorship program, certification training and a food lab operated by the University of Florida’s Southwest Florida Research & Education Center.

The facility will meet the regulatory standards of local and state agencies, along with those of the federal Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I think it would be a great way to develop a business and to learn,” said Peterson, who intends on producing kombucha,2121an Asian fermented tea, sourdough bread and dehydrated snacks, such as kale chips and mango chips.

“I’m a home business, so I don’t know about things like packaging, labeling, licensing and funding,” explained Peterson, who lives in Naples. “I’m really excited about the opportunity to talk to professionals, get advice and learn how to start.”

The accelerator is intended for use by farmers and cooperatives, startup food companies and home-kitchen entrepreneurs, as well as mid-size food companies, retail and food service companies and commercial users.

The facility will be Collier County’s second accelerator, joining one dedicated to technology that opened about a year ago at 3510 Kraft Road, located off Pine Ridge Road. To help businesses expand to the next level, the culinary accelerator will include a retail store, Woodstock’s, to sell what is produced on site.

Immokalee, the second poorest municipality in Florida, was chosen as the Culinary Accelerator location because it is Collier County’s agricultural center. Immokalee is also a federal Promise Zone – one of 22 high-poverty areas in select U.S. urban, rural and tribal communities. In addition, Collier has been named a Strike- Force County, part of a USDA program that brings economic opportunities to high-poverty, rural communities by helping leverage their assets.

Collier is well positioned for a successful culinary accelerator, said Jace Keltner, the county’s interim economic development director.

“We have a natural resource which is virtually untapped by working people in this community and that is our access to good agricultural products, and the creation of food products based on those fruits and vegetables,” he said. “We’re leveraging those natural resources to allow the average person in the working classes to produce products that will diversify our economy.”

The accelerators are a partnership between the Collier County Office of Business and the local non-profit Economic Incubators Inc.

The state legislature allocated $1.2 million for a culinary accelerator this year, said Marshall Goodman, director of the county’s accelerator program. A $112,000 USDA grant for purchasing equipment has also been received, as has a $1 million U.S. Department of Economic Development construction grant.

In August, the economic development office began conducting a survey in English, Spanish and Creole, to gauge the level of interest, product types, “who would use it, what type of equipment they would want and how sophisticated the individual is, when it comes to starting a food business,” said Goodman.

About 25 responses have been received thus far. Goodman said the survey will probably continue for a while.

Keltner said respondents are interested in producing such things as salsa, nut butters and a nut-based beverage, paleo and raw items, gluten-free foods and juices.

There will be an application process for prospective participants and scholarships will be available. Goodman said the cost to participants will probably mirror that of similar community kitchens, at $15 to $20 an hour.

Keltner said the accelerator is open to prospective entrepreneurs from all locales, although Collier County is its focus.

“We want to make it easier for companies from anywhere to come here because the goal is get them here and keep them here,” he added.

For more information about the Culinary Accelerator @ Immokalee, visit colliergov.net/doing-business, click on Catalyst Accelerator Network, then on Immokalee in the blue bar on the left or call 863-660-2987.

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