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Online training to open businesses in the food products and service sector

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Online learning has democratized access to valuable information. First Course is used for the Smallman Galley Inaugural Class and social entrepreneurs in New Sun Rising’s MODE impact incubator program. Additional local partners such as Community Kitchen Pittsburgh, 412 Food Rescue, Greater Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, Welcoming Pittsburgh Program for Immigrant Entrepreneurs, budding restaurant owners, culinary schools, and food industry entrepreneurs has access to the curriculum at low or zero cost. 

Shift Collaborative built the learning management system to be user friendly, informative, and educational. First Course is a national resource for those individuals and teams who desire to start a business in the food industry, with the potential to reach a national audience of underserved entrepreneurs.

First Course has the advantage of being the first online learning portal aimed specifically at the niche market of food industry entrepreneurs.  Today, individuals and teams who wish to get their start in the food industry, create jobs, serve their communities in a profitable way, and create meaningful change have few if any resources available to them that are tailored to their unique needs.  As two of the first movers into the food and restaurant incubator space, New Sun Rising and Smallman Galley are uniquely positioned to confront this challenge.  We have access to networks of industry professionals who will provide us invaluable insight and material on which to build a first-of-its-kind online platform for food entrepreneurs.  From our base in Pittsburgh, we can build a national audience around this discussion and truly make a difference for the thousands of ambitious, talented young food entrepreneurs across the nation who aim to be a part of the rapidly accelerating revolution in food products, systems, and service.

Food is often the first industry which takes hold in revitalizing community due to an ability to integrate many shareholders and benefits. Food access and nutrition is a root problem in many communities. The First Course project addresses this problem by providing a more diverse community with greater access to professional business knowledge and training. Giving these food entrepreneurs the critical business training that they are currently lacking will develop more well planned, supported, and sustainable models and a greater chance of success. Food enterprises are increasingly diverse in both who is starting the business as well as the nature and impact of the food concept. First Course will allow a more creative, diverse set of entrepreneurs to develop concepts and be successful.  Scaling support for them helps to meet the needs of a wider portion of an underserved demographic and ultimately creates the nutritional, social, and job creation benefits that the food industry provides to community.  First Course will focus on supporting entrepreneurs in three niches within the food industry.

1. Food Products

In the food product space, many individuals or teams have a special recipe or extraordinary idea and think of developing a line of food products to capitalize on their gifts. However, more than a good-tasting item is needed to start and grow a food product business. In addition to production and sale legalities, which vary from state to state and even city to city, an entrepreneur needs to tackle marketing and developing relationships with retailers, navigating Food and Drug Administration guidelines, and determining capital investment needs for optimal output at lowest cost (especially when starting-up).  These challenges can be overwhelming to a home tinkerer or business novice, even if he or she possesses a revolutionary product idea. 

2. Food Systems

Entrepreneurs in the food systems space are integral to the increasing efficiency and effectiveness of the food industry at large.  Food system entrepreneurs integrate sustainable food production, harvesting, processing, packaging, distributing, and waste reuse and removal in order to enhance the environmental, economic and social health of a particular place.  One of the most important aspects of food system projects is that they increase resident participation to achieve the goals such as improving access to an adequate, affordable, nutritious diet, and improving the living and working conditions for farm and food system labor.  Food systems are complex, and like the food service and products spaces, the skills needed to succeed in this market are often learned through experience due to a lack of available business resources.  What a major loss to our community if an individual or team had developed, say, a novel method of reusing food waste, but the hurdles to successful implementation prohibited the metamorphosis of that idea into a viable business model.

3.  Food Service

In the food service space, the margins are typically slim, the hours long, and the criticism constant. High capital costs often prove prohibitive,  and supposing one scrapes together the cash to cover a restaurant build-out, every piece of the “pie” – supplier networks, back of the house talent, front of the house skill – must be the same flavor or the “pie” won’t taste right.  The fare must be amazing, yes, but without strong business acumen involved, a restaurant is just a kitchen and a storefront business is just a warehouse.  It takes a true marriage of artistic talent and business skill to make a restaurant a success.

First Course is designed to address the acute needs of entrepreneurs in food service, products and systems.  First Course helps educate food entrepreneurs, chefs, and restaurant owners to control costs, hire the right staff members, and develop a robust marketing and business plan. These are simple elements of general business ownership, yet few comprehensive online resources exist that are tailored toward food industry start-ups. 

The goals of First Course are to:

Gather, curate and design relevant content that is used to educate food entrepreneurs with the professional business knowledge and training necessary to achieve success.
Provide professional business knowledge and training to a greater number of underserved food entrepreneurs.
Create a social enterprise to support the creation and implementation of food entrepreneurial programs to benefit the community through partners like Smallman Galley.
Create a social enterprise to support the further development and sustainability of First Course.

The Program

The First Course Project is a collaborative effort between Smallman Galley, New Sun Rising, and Shift Collaborative with support and content provided by La Dorita and Urban Innovation 21.   
Smallman Galley, opening in Fall 2015, is a first-of-its-kind restaurant incubator that provides low-risk, low-cost opportunity to undiscovered, ambitious culinary talent while driving economic redevelopment in Pittsburgh. While managing their own restaurants under Smallman Galley’s roof, Chefs attend weekly trainings by industry leaders on branding, business plan drafting, business operations, marketing, and financing. In the final six months of their 18-month term, Chefs are linked with a network of financiers, and we leverage our real estate development network to find an appropriate site. During this time Chefs continue their work at the Galley while making investor pitches and preparing to start their own restaurants.  Smallman Galley aims to produce four new food service enterprises every 18 months, creating at least 80 new jobs and creating a robust mentorship network of alumni who will continue their work in improving Pittsburgh’s food industry.  

More broadly, Smallman Galley aims to spark a national conversation on the inefficiencies in the food industry and serve as a central node between food industry entrepreneurs and sources of knowledge, resources, and wisdom in the business community.  To the First Course project, Smallman Galley brings its network of advisors in business operations and planning (Community Kitchen Pittsburgh, Eat’n Park, Gordon Food Service, Pritchard Hill Capital, Papa J’s, Inc), financing (Urban Redevelopment Authority, Small Business Administration, PNC Bank), marketing (Shift Collaborative), and legal (Gelman & Reisman, Damian, Amato & Start, City of Pittsburgh).  These key players will augment the First Course platform with unrivaled knowledge and resources for members of First Course.

Throughout the 12-month term of Smallman Galley’s inaugural class, training material is compiled each semester and transformed into online content by Shift Collaborative. 

Each module is “expert” sourced, and will follow traditional curriculum methodology creating lesson plans and presentations that is interpreted and translated into an online learning system.   

Similarly, New Sun Rising’s Incubator Program for food entrepreneurs will provide a steady flow of material for use in creating First Course’s resource bank for food products and systems entrepreneurs.

Launch MODE is an impact incubator from New Sun Rising which helps early stage social entrepreneurs research, test, and implement business models in local communities. The 12 month program provides direct support, industry expertise, market insight, impact fundraising, and development to emerging for profit and nonprofit leaders. Participants meet monthly in a highly collaborative mastermind group to work through challenges and build a peer network of support, receive one on one development support from NSR pod managers, and office hours with food industry experts, such as Leah Lizarondo. Other program benefits include access to a co-working space, professional services from our partner network, a Leadership Wellness Program, and education on metric tools to report both financial and social impact. 

New Sun Rising’s first Launch MODE community is the Millvale Food Enterprise Incubator. While the newly created launch program supports leaders from around the regional food system, we’ve chosen Millvale as our host site for good reason. Fresh food access and hyperlocal production is a central part of their vision for sustainability. The EcoDistricts community planning process brought together citizens, neighborhood organizations, businesses, and local government to develop a unified vision for a fresh food hub. Social enterprises who participate in Launch Millvale are not only incubated with the resources and learning content critical to their success, but are placed in the context of an engaged, supportive community. The objective of the program is to launch social enterprises which create local, sustainable, and measurable impact.


We believe the online learning platform can be a lucrative product to sell in the marketplace to culinary schools and to food entrepreneurs nationwide. This opportunity could fill the gap of trade schools that are now defunct and online schools that costs are insurmountable. 

The learning platform is developed through “Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment”. The module is easy for first time users, easy generation of PDF documents and can quickly establish courses. All grades for assignments and quizzes can be viewed on one sheet and downloaded as a spreadsheet. Teachers/Instructors can add multiple files very easily by dragging and dropping.

The learning management system has a homework dropbox and student tracking data that can be exported. This program has been internationalized to support multiple languages, dialects and timezones. The program has a visually attractive interface and be very fast and modern with advanced security characteristics.

UpPrize Support

We seek support to launch the online platform in three tier-two cities to help us understand the needs of other cities of our kind that are addressing food accessibility and food systems challenges in other like urban environments. The support will allow us to develop a localized network and infrastructure to develop content in hyper-local regions in three cities (Detroit, Cleveland, and Nashville). We will model the relationships and identify partnerships in the same manner how First Course developed in Pittsburgh. We will identify community or shared kitchen, food advocacy groups, home based business and first stage incubators in the food sector, enterprise forums and entrepreneur groups in the food sector in these cities to build local editions of First Course. 

Launching in other cities will allow us to bring back and share with others in the Pittsburgh market the challenges people are facing in terms of food accessibility and building sustainable food systems in these markets. Therefore, we will allow others to solve problems on a national scale with like minded organizations and advocacy groups in the food sector. 

Currently the product is being tested by users in the Pittsburgh market. The feedback from users is a need for direct contacts of local service providers in legal, accounting and other sectors, including key practices for food safety including federal state and local food regulatory agencies. To scale this additional piece of content and develop the online platform for each unique city requires good content creators and researchers, a web developer to address technical issues and a customer service support mechanism. Your support will allow us to fully develop a scaleable model to test and deliver in other markets, setting-up for a nationwide release. 

Content developer and researcher 
The goal of the content developer and researcher is to find partnering organizations that can leverage the platform throughout the community and write about the resources in that particular city to collect information. Defining and writing food safety codes so they are accessible to the user will be key to the job description of this position. 

Web developer
The web developer will be responsible for updating the database, user experience and design of the content for the web application. 

Customer service provider
Today, we can maintain customer support through a ZenDesk application but as we scale this in other cities, a customer support representative will need to be on staff to address issues that come in on real-time. Customer Service representative will be responsible for addressing any content glitches, accuracy or content or technical problems with the users. The Customer Service provider will communicate between the content developer and the web developer. 

Marketing support 
Each city has it’s own marketing make-up. Once the new localized information is in place and the technological application is function we will market in each of the cities. Through earned, owned and paid media channels we will utilize our network built through our research and content developers to reach our target audiences. 
$40,000 per city x 3 = $120,000


Nov 30 2016

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