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Stories of Impact

Economic Vitality

From Idea to Ownership: Allen Neighborhood Center’s Accelerator Program Empowers Food Entrepreneurship

“It’s so gratifying to watch our food entrepreneurs at work in the Accelerator Program. They’re already thriving in their businesses, and truly living out their dreams.”

Joan Nelson, Director, Allen Neighborhood Center

Lansing, MI (June, 2021) -Breaking into the food industry can require a lot of grit and hard work, not to mention extensive capital and market savvy. It’s an enormous undertaking for a sole entrepreneur. To ease the burden, shared Incubator kitchens have been popping up all over the U.S., including 15 in Michigan. One such Incubator space was opened by the Allen Neighborhood Center in Lansing, and has since supported the dreams of 57 small food businesses.

While some of the Allen Neighborhood Center’s Incubator graduates have gone on to open brick and mortar locations, others remain unable to get to the next level. The Allen Neighborhood Center wanted to increase the pipeline of opportunities for these entrepreneurs and has since created a new concept in its Accelerator Kitchen, funded by a Walters Family Foundation grant.

The Smoothie Queen Launches her business at the Allen Neighborhood Center's Kitchen AcceleratorDownload a high-resolution version of this photo.

The Accelerator Kitchen allows successful Incubator graduates to continue to expand their businesses when they outgrow the hourly rental model but have not yet reached the point of leasing a dedicated space. It gives businesses 24/7 access to a fully equipped, shared commercial kitchen as well as an assigned workstation and storage area they can use for production, catering, and retail.

These entrepreneurs have the chance to lean into the more operational aspects of business ownership: from ordering food to cleaning equipment, promotion and marketing. They also have access to a kitchen manager who can advise on pricing, production and food safety. What’s more, Accelerator participants can stay connected to the community of Incubator food entrepreneurs, as well as leverage opportunities at the Allen Neighborhood Center’s food hub and farmers market.

The first cohort of Accelerator talent includes an impressive array of businesses: Mr. Leslie’s Cheescakes, Smoothie Queen, Tantay Peruvian cuisine and Slow's BBQ. “It’s only been two months since the Accelerator opened and they’re already developing connections with each other, hiring people and having lively interactions with customers,” says Joan Nelson, Director. “They see this as a huge gift in their journey, and one that will enable them to significantly expand.”

The Accelerator is the first of several new food-related enterprises that will make up the Allen Neighborhood Center’s larger mixed-use, community space and food innovation district. “We're a healthy communities’ initiative, and we define health very broadly,” says Nelson. “It includes things like access to food, healthy housing, a good paying job, and entrepreneurial opportunities. It’s a very holistic view of what constitutes a healthy neighborhood. The Accelerator program fits right in.”