By MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price
reSET and Hands On Hartford have collaborated to create a free Food Incubator program that supports Hartford-area entrepreneurs and small businesses looking to launch or grow food-based businesses. The program connects them with experienced mentors, potential investors, and access to resources, including shared kitchen spaces.
At the heart of the program is the goal of building a more vibrant and diverse Hartford. To that end, the Food Incubator prioritizes Hartford residents, Hartford-based businesses, food businesses that primarily serve Hartford residents, and businesses owned by women and people of color.
The Food Incubator program is supported by Launch Hartford and the Hartford Culinary Collaborative, which includes reSET, Hands On Hartford, Forge City Works, KNOX, Community Solutions, Swift Factory, Breakfast Lunch & Dinner, and Parkville Market.
“We’re beyond excited to have this type of programming here in Hartford,” enthused Shannon Mumley, Director of Small Business Development at the Hartford Chamber of Commerce. “So much of our work supporting small businesses in Hartford includes restaurants and cafés.”
reSET Food Catalyst Stefanie Robles is at the helm of the Food Incubator. Like many entrepreneurs, Stefanie wears serval hats. She founded her company, Nourishing Habits with Stef, in June 2019 and is currently participating in reSET’s Impact Accelerator program—which is where she learned about the Food Incubator program and applied for the Food Catalyst position.
“In this role, I get to marry my love for food and my love for the community and entrepreneurship. I’m also able to support and connect other food entrepreneurs with one another and the resources they need when it comes to Hartford and the food connection and network,” says Stefanie.
The aim is to meet food-based small businesses and entrepreneurs where they are with their needs.
“We’re supporting Food Incubator participants—from those who are in the ideation to creation phase to those in their early years of operation—and helping them with their challenges,” explains Stefanie.
“The goal is to connect folks who are in the Food Incubator with the overarching community. For example, if they’re struggling to find physical space, we can connect them to Parkville Market and encourage them to have a conversation about becoming a vendor, which is a low-cost rent option. Or, if a small business is challenged with reaching their target client and needs help with technical support, marketing, strategizing, or coaching, our collaborative and partners can provide those services,” she adds.
The Food Incubator also ties in a sustainability element, an underlying mission at reSET.
“My dream would be to connect local producers and farmers with these small business owners who want to use local, sustainable produce—whether they’re looking to implement a value-based approach of increasing their local presence, they want to uplift other local businesses, or they’re trying to potentially lower the cost of goods for their produce in comparison to a big manufacturer,” explains Stefanie. “Ideally, we want to keep everything in the community, cut the middleman out, and connect preexisting businesses with one another.”
In addition to providing access to resources and mentors, the Food Incubator also features workshops and events, like the Eat Up Meet Up, where participants can connect with likeminded Greater Hartford food entrepreneurs, form possible collaborations, and provide tips, ideas, and support.
“While food entrepreneurs and small business owners have been struggling through the pandemic, we’ve also seen them launching and thriving,” notes Hartford Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Julio Concepcion. “Efforts like the Food Incubator help encourage and support our local community of small business owners—not only by supporting the food-based business owners, but also by feeding our community and adding to the vibrancy that makes Hartford a unique place for all types of dining.”