Last fall, the fourth installment of the Food Entrepreneurship Series hosted food business accelerator Union Kitchen and its successful ventures — including JRINK, Eat Pizza, and Snacklins — to discuss how to launch and grow food ventures. The series is a collaboration of StartupHoyas, Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, the Georgetown University Eating Society, The Corp, and Spoon University Georgetown.
By inviting Washington, D.C., area food entrepreneurs, the Food Entrepreneurship Series gives students the opportunity to learn about the food industry and meet food entrepreneurs. At the conclusion of the panel, audience members sampled the food startups’ products and networked with the panelists.
Union Kitchen CEO Cullen Gilchrist told the panel that he entered the food industry right out of school. He worked any food-related position he could get his hands on, from cook to dishwasher. Over the years, Gilchrist has come to see food as central to a community’s culture, and he started Union Kitchen in the hopes of contributing to the local D.C. food culture. Through the use of Union Kitchen’s on-site resources, many local D.C. food businesses received help accelerating their growth.
Successful D.C. food entrepreneurs on the panel included Shizu Okusa of JRINK, which produces healthy farm-to-bottle juices; Andy Brown of Eat Pizza, which provides quality frozen pizza; and ‘Samy K’, who launched Snacklins after a bet with a friend to make a healthy pork rind led to the vegan and gluten-free pork rind snacks.
When it comes to building a food venture, Brown suggested that success is based on “the relationships you can build in the process.” Samy K shared three things that food entrepreneurs should keep in mind: how consumers find out about you, how do you market to them, and how to keep a high retention rate.
Gilchrist looks for certain qualities in a food entrepreneur: someone who is “smart, hustles, and works hard.” They must have “an ability to learn.” For entrepreneurs to get started, Gilchrist said they need a desire and a problem that their venture can solve. To find success in the food business, he suggested to “focus your work in what you’re strong at” and to have a great team to account for your shortcomings.
The Food Entrepreneurship Series showcases the prominent interest that many Georgetown students have in food startups. The Georgetown neighborhood, straddling M Street, is a melting pot of culinary talent, with a wide array of international options. The university campus also hosts a popular farmer’s market every Wednesday. The food scene at Georgetown is fostered by a campus of avid foodies and enterprising students, some of whom launch their own venture as students — from a group of freshmen starting a snack delivery service to dorm rooms to apartment roommates launching the flavored fries stand Spud Buds.
In appreciation of Georgetown’s food culture, Alex Heintze (B’19), president of the Georgetown University Eating Society, emphasized that Georgetown has many resources for students interested in food entrepreneurship.
“StartupHoyas offers many opportunities for students interested in launching their own venture,” said Heintze, such as expert advice from the Entrepreneur-in-Residence program and participation in pitch competitions for a chance to win prize money.
— Theo Symonds