Get ready for culinary business accelerator

If all goes as expected, on July 1 the grant money for Immokalee’s culinary accelerator will be in place and construction on the facility can begin.

Dr. Marshall Goodman, of Economic Incubators, Inc., a nonprofit company that will run the food facility in a county-owned facility.

Not too long ago, the county lost $1.8 million in grant monies for the Immokalee accelerator when the check did not arrive for six months, allowing no time to complete construction. But once again, Immokalee has an opportunity to complete the dream of a community culinary facility that would provide FDA/USDA certified kitchen facilities for small food business start ups.

The Naples business incubator, is already up and running and is available to help prospective new business owners with business plans and empower entrepreneurs by helping them get their product into stores and on the internet.

The culinary facility will be located at Immokalee Airport tech park, utilizing half the building – 5,000 square feet – which formerly housed a wood shutter manufacturing company. It needs a lot of renovation/upgrade to transform it into a commercial kitchen with food processing equipment.

The facility is intended for use by small to medium sized culinary entrepreneurs trying to get established.

The kitchen will be available to those wanting to create food products like pasta, gelato, salsa, barbecue sauce, energy bars and pastries as well as beverages like Florida’s own citrus juices and even distilled liquor.

It is hoped that this community project will attract cooperation from large companies like USSC and other local farmers through donations of ingredients like vegetable culls not up to direct market grade, but good wholesome ingredients.

This facility will be open to anyone with state certification to book time in the commercial kitchen.

Certification should not be a problem for most food producers since most already have the proper certification, but Dr. Goodman said that he is working with the University of Florida to set up a course for food safety certification, as well.

Already a number of companies have come asking when the facility will be available and Dr. Goodman encourages entrepreneurs to go ahead and get their projects started to jump start their business.

This incubator will be exactly what a small entrepreneur trying to establish his or her company will need since they don’t have the capacity or certification in their personal kitchens and don’t have the capital to build their own processing facility.

It will be a one step location for prep, cook, distill locally grown, produced and marketed foods.

The University of Florida is partnering with the project to analyze food safety and shelf life for businesses.

The Immokalee facility will be equipped to help entrepreneur produce, package, label and ship product.

culinaryThe facility is meant to be shared, providing many different entrepreneurs space to kick start their businesses. It will have hot and cold stations, baking and confectionery stations – no multiple uses at one station at same time. People will rent space at the stations in blocks of time. The facility will need full-time personnel to run the machine, which can operate 24/7.

Each entrepreneur will be responsible for cleaning up their own area when they finish, but the county will outsource cleaning the facility to ensure the required high standard of maintenance.

Dr. Goodman noted that this facility will “open a ton of markets” to local entrepreneurs.

It should take about nine months to build once the money is in hand. Then all a prospective company will need is their recipe, worker(s) and their own ingredients. However, unforeseen permiting issues can hold up construction.

In addition, Dr. Goodman said they have applied for a USDA grant $200,000 and a US Economic Development agency grant $750,000 to supplement construction costs and equipment. In particular, they want a $620,000 Hiperbaric 55 processor, which uses water pressure to kill bacteria in food without using pasteurization that changes flavor in foods like juice, shellfish and vegetables.

If they are successful in getting the grant, Immokalee will have the only such machine in all of South Florida, making this facility extremely attractive to many area customers.

“The goal,” Dr. Goodman said, “is to be 21st Century high tech in the ag industry and to be a high tech center.”

This will be a huge asset to local entrepreneurs and to the entire community from the beginning, but they’re already looking forward to increasing the facility’s use by becoming certified for kosher and vegan foods.

Dr. Goodman said he is “very excited” about starting construction and is grateful for the community support shown by the Chamber of Commerce and CRA.

District 5 Commissioner Tim Nance helped build an invaluable partnership with UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center Director Dr. Calvin Arnold.

The idea is to create new companies by getting government and private donations, putting the process in reach of the small entrepreneur.

He encourages anyone interested in renting time at the Immokalee accelerator not to wait till the facility is complete. Help is available from the Naples accelerator to set up your business plan and marketing so when the kitchen opens you’ll be ready to go.

Patty Brant, Publisher of the Immokalee Bulletin can be reached at pbrant@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.