Say you’ve spent the last months or years perfecting the world’s best recipe for Sriracha-flavored popcorn or drinkable soup (yes, that’s a thing) and now you want to bring it to the masses. Your family and friends love it, you’ve saved up some money or secured a line of credit, and while you’ve never started a food business before, you’re ready to strike out on that path to become the next Chobani or Stumptown.
What’s the first thing you need to do?
Chances are, it’s making the move out of your own kitchen and into a commercial space, a hurdle that often stops budding food entrepreneurs in their tracks. A shame really, since the typical commercial kitchen goes unused over 50% of the time. Enter The Food Corridor: an online platform where food businesses can connect with and choose commercial production spaces and gain access to tools like scheduling and booking, payment processing, and health code documentation. Airbnb is a co-living space, WeWork is a co-working space, and TFC bills itself as a “co-cooking space”—one which hopes disrupt the speciality foods industry much as Airbnb has disrupted the hotel industry.
They’re now one step closer to their goal. Earlier this week, TFC closed their seed round and officially raised $555,000, all from within their home state of Colorado. Co-founder and CEO Ashley Colpaart told the Spoon that they will use their funds to add additional revenue generating features to TFC platform, grow the number of kitchens powered by their software over the next year, pay sales and marketing expenses, and hire key personnel.
Colpaart first got the idea for TFC when she was a PhD student at Colorado State University and got invited to Washington to a USDA event about food systems. After an onslaught of proposals which focused on infrastructure but didn’t come with a well-thought-out business plan, her frustration grew. “I got a little weary of allocating funds to something that didn’t seem like the right answer,” she said in an interview last year. While in an Uber (her first!) back to her Airbnb, she started thinking about ways to apply the sharing economy that’s so integral to vacation rentals and transportation to the food system.
“I was, like, ‘are we using the resources we have efficiently before we go build new ones?'” The answer was no—or really, not yet. Thus TFC, the online marketplace connecting shared-use kitchens with food entrepreneurs, was born.
In the past few years, the sharing economy has started to democratize food creation through shared kitchen spaces and food business incubators. TFC hopes to capitalize on this trend and facilitate its growth. “The goal is to create a resource that is an enduring contribution to the sustainability of shared kitchens,” said Colpaart.
TFC is hoping to become a key innovator in this emerging industry. They are planning a meetup later this year to bring together the leaders in the cottage foods disruption space. “I also think there is an opportunity to leverage the infrastructure of the kitchen to support more food entrepreneurs through technology,” said Colpaart. “For example, cloud kitchens or delivery only restaurants.” As long as it gets us more Sriracha popcorn faster, we’re in.
The Spoon had a chance to ask Colpaart a few questions about the news and her plans for TFC. You can see our interview below.
Tell us a little about the Food Corridor?
Colpaart: The mission of TFC is to enable efficiency, growth, and innovation in local food… We provide a real solution to a real problem in the food system by using a proven, scalable concept applied to a new vertical.
We’ve seen a bunch of interest and growth in shared kitchen, kitchen incubators, in the last few years as the sharing economy has started to democratize food creation. How will TFC add to this conversation?
Colpaart: In addition to bringing the sharing economy to specialty foods, we are supporting local policy to increase shared use kitchens and grow the industry. We also facilitate the largest network of shared kitchens (900+) in the country, the Network for Incubator and Commissary Kitchens, which we are using to become the trusted thought leader in the space by providing content, industry reports, white papers, and a curated community to support the industry.
We are currently developing a Shared Kitchen Toolkit (SKT), as a collaboration between Purdue University, The Food Corridor, and Fruition Planning & Management, with funding from the USDA North Central SARE. The SKT is a web-based resource (both downloadable and dynamic) that will include guidance on feasibility and planning for new kitchen projects, as well as best practices for the day-to-day operations of shared-use kitchens. The goal is to create a resource that is an enduring contribution to the sustainability of shared kitchens.
How did food become such a focus for you?
Colpaart: My mom was a food entrepreneur (had a hot sauce company and catered out of our house). My dad was a hardware engineer (designed microprocessor chips) in Silicon Valley during the boom. I was raised on food tech.
What do you want Food Corridor to be in 5 years?
Colpaart: The mission of TFC is to be the world’s virtual food hub, enabling efficiency, growth, and innovation in local food systems across the globe. We want the platform to be a one-stop-shop for food entrepreneurs looking to start and scale food businesses by leveraging network assets and ecosystem services.