"Culinary incubator" leads to small business success

Michiana entrepreneurs have a chance to learn about starting a small food business at a seminar in Niles on Tuesday.

Niles DDA Main Street is partnering with Michigan State University to host a Workshop for Michigan Entrepreneurs, focusing on food safety, labeling, transportation and how to make a profit.

The seminar is based on a program that's proven successful already in Niles. The Entrepreneurial Culinary Incubator (NECI) allows business hopefuls to rent space in a commercial kitchen for a small hourly fee. NECI gives food lovers the chance to produce their specialty without overhead costs or the liability. Plus, chefs can take steps to earn a food license and get their product on store shelves.

Six people have been through the NECI program so far.

"It allowed me to make mistakes but not fatal mistakes for my company," said Andrea Martin, owner of Gathering Grains Aristan Granola. "I didn't have the capital and overhead expenses of the kitchen and rent expense and all those other expenses."

Another participant, Jim Lacey, now runs a catering company and sells his barbeque sauce regionally, thanks to NECI.

"The assistance you get in this kitchen is invaluable," said Lacey, owner of Jim Bob's Barbeque and Jimmy's X BBQ sauce. "They give you resources through Michigan State University, they give you help so you can work through the regulatory process."

For more information about the program, visit the Niles DDA Main Street website.

The "How to start a successful cottage food business in Michigan" seminar is Tuesday, April 29, from 3-5 p.m. at 219 North 4th Street in Niles.

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