Niles Entrepreneurial & Culinary Incubator: A chip off the ol’ Starting Block

With the help of the Michigan State University Product Center and Starting Block Incubator, Niles MainStreet opens its Niles Entrepreneurial & Culinary Incubator in June to support local food business development.

It’s no coincidence that Niles MainStreet’s most recent community venture lives its tag line, “where history lives and the fun begins.” The Downtown Development Authority’s Niles Entrepreneurial & Culinary Incubator (NECI) opens in June at the home of the former Pickwick Club, a private gentleman’s club of times past, now owned by Leader Publications. The excitement is palatable as future food business operators await the opportunity to turn their favorites into commercial reality.

The idea to compliment Niles’s existing downtown vibe and successful French Farmer’s Market with commercial food product development has been long in the making.

In 2011 NECI team visited the Starting Block located in Hart, Michigan, and took a day-long course about how to operate a commercial kitchen. “The Starting Block is the reason we started,” says Lisa Croteau, Niles MainStreet Program Manager. “Twelve of us took the class and we have continued to be mentored so that we can offer resources to the community.”

This spring, Niles MainStreet, with area organizations offered a host of educational classes for emerging food entrepreneurs, including Michigan State Univeristy Product Center’s Cottage to Commercial: Ingredients for a Successful Food Business. Instructor and Innovation Counselor Mark Thomas said of Croteau, “Lisa and her committee have done a great job putting together both a facility and a structure to support emerging commercial food business owners.”

 Thomas’s client, Marianne Christy, recalls using a template to help her price her cottage food items. “When I realized I wasn’t making money I raised my prices to retail. I sold a ton of cookies at retail because Mark told me I needed to account for labor cost. Now I’m looking at making a commercial cookie and I’m OK. Working with the Product Center was one of the best things I did.”

Christy serves as NECI Intake Counselor, and plans to launch the first commercial food business from the incubator.

As for the reaction to the news of NECI’s imminent opening, Starting Block Director, Ron Steiner, shares, “We at The Starting Block are thrilled that the NECI team has so successfully achieved the vision and goals they presented to us during their visit last year. We will continue to share ‘Best Practices’ (and challenges) in the years ahead. Onward!”

To request business counseling from the MSU Product Center visit the MSU Product Center website or call 517-432-8750. You may also visit the Starting Block website or call 231-873-1432.

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