Food for thought, Hart business helps food entrepreneurs find their niche

March 25, 2013
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Ron Steiner talks about some of the books he uses as resources for his kitchen incubator.

By Rob Alway
Editor-in-Chief.

VICTORY TWP. — Have you ever heard of Sassy Seasonings? How about Maple Island Pie Factory? Perhaps you’ve bought some Good Life Granola at Meijer. These are just some of the food products that have been developed with the help of the Starting Block Incubator in Hart. Ron Steiner, founder of the Starting Block, spoke at the monthly meeting of the West Shore Inventor/Entrepreneur Network (WIN) at West Shore Community College Monday night.

Starting Block started in 2005. It provides a facility and resources for entrepreneurs who want to get into the food industry.

“We rent kitchen time by the hour,” Steiner said. “Our focus is to get businesses started. Most of our clients already know how to make the product, this is where the passion comes in.”

Steiner said the goal is to have the start-ups “graduate” where they reach a point where they are too big for the facility. Since the incubator started, there have been about 100 graduates.

He said it’s usually a three year time that businesses come into the incubator and then make a decision whether it’s a hobby, just an idea or a growing business.

Some of those businesses have seen some major successes. They have been picked up by places like Meijer, Whole Foods and Cracker Barrel.

“Meijer has changed its philosophy the last five years,” Steiner said. “They now provide the opportunity for businesses to start in one or two stores rather than all the stores.”

Steiner said his clients are encouraged to start with smaller, local food stores, however. You will often see their products at places like Hansen’s Foods in Hart or Best Choice Market in Ludington, or other stores of similar size. They will often start at farmers’ markets as well.

Good Life Granola is one of the success stories Steiner talked about. “They are a husband and wife team out of Holland,” he said. “They came to the incubator once a month, then twice a month. Now, they come three times a week and are in 70 Meijer stores. They have hired two local people part-time and they are at the point where they need to graduate. We want them to graduate.”

By graduating, Steiner means it’s time for the company to go out into its own facilities.

Another success story is Uncle Gene’s Backwoods Pretzels of Traverse City. “This was a hobby thing that some guys and their wives started. The logistics got to the point where it got too much to drive back and forth to Hart. So, they bought some of our equipment and started their own facility in Traverse City. They just got picked up by Cracker Barrel, all 610 of them.”

West Shore Inventor/Entrepreneur Network meets the fourth Monday of every month in room 751 of the Schoenner Campus Center from 6 to 8 p.m. The group discusses ideas about inventions and starting businesses.

“We have an incubator here at West Shore,” Steiner said. “Between WIN, the Business Opportunity Center and the business training programs, these are all business incubator functions.

For more information about The Starting Block, visit www.startingblock.biz.

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