By DAVID HAMILTON //
So, a food incubator … a what now?
I’ve run Stony Brook University’s Clean Energy Business Incubator Program for the past decade, and its Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center for the past four years. But a food incubator? How, exactly, does one run a food incubator?
This has been my challenge over the past three months: learning the ropes of the university’s exciting, state-of-the-art Food Business Incubator at Calverton, where the goal is to help early-stage food companies improve, commercialize and grow.
I was asked to step in and help the incubator succeed in its mission. What I’ve come to understand since taking over as interim program manager is that a) I have a bunch of things to learn, because shared kitchens are not the same as high-tech energy labs, and b) some things never change – in many important ways, startups are startups, regardless of industry.
Clean-energy companies need help with corporate structure, business strategy, manufacturing and customer discovery. Guess what? Food companies need exactly the same help.
These amazing innovators have created mind-blowing biscotti, cheese puffs, donuts and more – but they have no idea how to sell them, how to package them, how to maximize efficiency, how to scale up.
That’s where the incubator comes in. Our job is more than providing shared-use commercial kitchens outfitted with large ovens, blast chillers and walk-in freezers – we’re here to learn about each company, to understand their wants and needs, to leverage our connections to find the support and resources they need. We’re here to help.
Just like over at CEBIP and the AERTC, that’s my mission here. The companies come first. My Job No. 1 is making sure they understand that, and that joining this incubator is more than a property manager/occupant relationship.
We have a great team at the Calverton incubator, with exactly the right skillsets. Building Manager Yvonne Schultz knows baking inside and out and has worked really hard to move the needle for our member companies. She’s got loads of good advice on how to run a company and how to work the equipment – she’s even spiced up a recipe or two.
This is what she does and she’s quite good at it. I’ve learned already that my job is basically to support her and stay out of her way – the same as I do with the amazing CEBIP team, so skilled in its support of our early-stage energy companies. Any incubation program is only as successful as its team.
Fifty new companies have joined the Calverton incubator just since COVID started, so we have our work cut out for us. But our unique combination of excellent facilities and top-shelf talent really can create a culture of growth, enthusiasm and learning – and most importantly of all success, which ultimately means a whole bunch of local companies will be graduating into the world of professional culinary excellence.
And along the way – man, the food! So yummy.
David Hamilton is the interim program manager of Stony Brook University’s Food Business Incubator at Calverton.