Prepped for Success
It’s one thing to make a mean taco but that’s usually not enough to become prosperous in the food business, where only a small percentage of entrepreneurs actually make it.
Sometimes to make a dream come true you need a fairy godmother. For some lucky food entrepreneurs in the Valley, that fairy godmother is a program at Arizona State University called Prepped, a 10-week program for novice food entrepreneurs. Thanks to Prepped, many promising entrepreneurs will now get a chance to acquire the skills they need so they can be among the small percentage who do make it.
Prepped, supported by a small business development and economic growth grant from JP Morgan Chase, is a free program designed to give food entrepreneurs, especially women and people of color, the knowledge and training they need to succeed in the food industry.
The people accepted into the program generally are already producing a product or service but need the structure and training to get to the next step. Prepped takes them through the steps to improve their already viable business model. So far, 41 businesses have been through the program: 26 in the first year’s cohort, 15 this fall.
Many, like Martin Ramos (Santi’s Catering and El Oyster Food Truck), needed help getting permits for their businesses. Ramos started cooking out of a restaurant kitchen. Once he sold the restaurant, he was lucky enough to be awarded catering contracts but did not know how to secure the necessary permits to continue to provide food legally. With the help of Prepped, he was able to obtain everything he needed to legalize his business.
Ramos, who was in the first cohort of the program in 2016, says his business has increased by 50% since he finished the Prepped program. “We didn’t know how to price our food or really how to do anything until we started in the program. We were going in the wrong direction. Now people take us seriously because it’s obvious we know what we’re doing.”
The participants go to class 2½ hours per week for 10 weeks where they learn how to run a business. They take classes on how to determine food costs, how to prepare a profit-and-loss statement, how to project a 12-month cash flow and how to write a business model for their business. More importantly, they are assigned mentors and coaches who have expertise in developing and running a food business.
Even though Ramos completed the program last year, he is still in contact with his coaches and mentors. “Whenever I have a problem, I call right away and they’re always there to help.”
Michele Rudy, coordinator for the program, says that applicants for the program have to be past the “idea” stage. “We offer them 10 weeks of instruction by ASU faculty. We assist them in getting ServSafe certification, procuring permits and we offer them general business support. Our goal is to invest and serve entrepreneurs who probably could not get help from the bank with the business model they have when they come to us.”
The goal of those in the program, most of whom have full time jobs to support their families while making the transition to fully sustainable entrepreneur, is to be able to quit their jobs and dedicate themselves fully to their food businesses.
Among this fall’s group is Angela Vannett and her husband, Lobo, who together own Pura Vida Grinds Coffee. Vannett used to be an office manager at a tax and accounting firm and her husband was a personal driver and worked with Uber. Vannett has just given notice at her job because the couple is confident that they can now make a go of the business thanks to what they’ve learned at Prepped.
“In the beginning stages of starting our mobile coffee trailer business, we felt overwhelmed and stressed out. We often said we just wished there was some sort of class you could take or somewhere we could look to for guidance,” said Vannett when asked if the program was helpful.
Prepped offers more than just mentors, coaches and classes. One of the more beneficial perks of the program is learning from the other members of the cohort. Each member brings in samples of their product for the others to taste and critique. According to Vannett, “We received valuable and honest feedback that has helped with how we craft our drinks.”
At the end of the 10-week instructional period, Prepped holds a food showcase for the entrepreneurs. Coaches, mentors and other invited guests get to sample the food while they listen to a business pitch from the owners. The showcase is actually a contest with a grand prize of $5,000—an award that can go a long way to helping the winner grow her business.
The entrepreneurs competing in last year’s showcase ranged from taco trucks with locally sourced ingredients, to hickory-smoked barbecue, to a ceviche catering company and a Native-owned coffee cooperative. Three “Rising Stars” were each awarded $2,000 and one overall showcase award winner received the top prize of $5,000.
The overall winner was Tukee’s Tamales.
The Rising Star Awardees were:
The showcase for the present cohort of entrepreneurs will be sometime in April 2018.
What do you need to get into the program? A good idea. A passion. A commitment.
“Some have food experience and training in fine dining and others learned from Grandma and Mom growing up,” says Rudy.
The program is free, so if you have been toiling away at a food business with a little success and you’re sure what you’re doing just needs a little shove, apply for Prepped. You might be the next big thing!
For more information on Prepped, see entrepreneurship.asu.edu/community/prepped. Instructions on applying for the 2018 cohort will be available in mid-December.