After months of preparation, the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Law School held a marvelous conference for food entrepreneurs—Recipe for Success: How to Start and Build a Food Business in Chicago. About 200 attendees learned more about how to start a food-related business in Chicago. The stream of aspiring entrepreneurs who kept arriving on Saturday morning blew our attendance goals away. (And they came close to blowing our catering plans away, so we had to order some extra food for lunch at the last minute!)
The energy was palpable.
The room was packed with dreamers, eager to learn the nitty-gritty details about how to make those dreams come true. The audience included both aspiring and active entrepreneurs from every segment of the food industry. We met a beauty shop owner who wants to start a community kitchen, an innovator who wants to make mushroom-growing kits from recycled coffee grounds, an architect who designs restaurants, a food truck operator, and a vegan ice cream maker, to name only a few.
We kicked off the day with a panel of inspiring entrepreneurs who have overcome countless challenges to succeed. The panelists—a vertical farmer (who grows crops indoors), a restaurant owner and an organic produce distributor—told of their entrepreneurial journeys, which required patience, creativity, thrift, resilience and good advice along the way. Each shared practical tips and inspiring anecdotes. Next on the program were law students who pushed themselves to gain expertise in detailed areas of the law and present them accessibly and enthusiastically. Among the topics covered were restaurant licensing, farm zoning and taxation of tips. Additional expertise was provided by a buyer from Whole Foods (whose title is actually “Local Forager”) and a branding expert from the Leo Burnett advertising agency. Each speaker contributed a different specialty to pack the day with a wide variety of information for aspiring entrepreneurs.
For the main event, five IJ Clinic students explained the regulatory maze faced by entrepreneurs starting food-related businesses in Chicago. The presentation captured the entire IJ Clinic mission in a nutshell. Under close guidance from the IJ Clinic directors, law students had developed expertise in their assigned topics and polished their presentations so that they could address the pressing needs of local entrepreneurs. We broke down information barriers by providing in-depth advice and instruction in the complex legal requirements for food businesses, at no cost to low-income entrepreneurs. And, finally, we educated an auditorium of people about the perils of excessive regulation. Everyone in attendance was keenly aware that such confusing and convoluted regulation could discourage or squash entrepreneurs. Our audience of new and old friends learned that the IJ Clinic is here to walk them through the maze and, where necessary, work to knock down walls so they have a clearer path.
Ben Montañez, an IJ Clinic law student who will graduate this year, said he felt the energy in the room as he gave his presentation. “It was invigorating to be a part of helping individuals to realize their dreams, and in the process create employment, economic development, and opportunities,” he said. “Several people came up to speak with me after the presentation, and we discussed their businesses or their planned businesses. I loved hearing each unique story and plan, and seeing the sparkle in their eyes that comes from taking chances and creating something new.”
To top it off, we served all sorts of food from local businesses. It was definitely the biggest outreach event the IJ Clinic has ever had in its nearly 15-year history! For more details, check out www.ij.org/RecipeForSuccess.
The impact of the program was obvious for all involved. As one participant put it, “This was a helpful and perhaps life-changing day!”
Because the IJ Clinic operates in the rarified air of the University of Chicago Law School, we are always putting such events in an academic context. In this case, all involved in our Recipe for Success adventure certainly earned a solid A+.
Beth Kregor directs the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Law School.