Every chef or foodie knows the most successful recipes are simple and require few ingredients. But the recipe for starting a food business in Chicago is complex and messy. Happily, though, entrepreneurs can turn to the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship for step-by-step guidance on the recipe for success.
On Saturday, May 3, the IJ Clinic hosted Recipe for Success: Your Place at the Table. The daylong conference showed aspiring and active entrepreneurs in the food industry that they are not alone. They have the IJ Clinic and a community of like-minded culinary businesspeople to help them establish their niches.
The program focused on strategies for teaming up with others to build a strong business. When they arrived, all the participants received recipe cards that they could fill out with tidbits of know-how—perhaps an actual recipe, a business strategy or a helpful contact—and share with others at the conference. Everyone in the room had wisdom and experience to share.
We launched the program with stories of entrepreneurs who have changed Chicago history and IJ clients who have changed the law. Then the speakers dished out special expertise. First, a panel of entrepreneurs took the stage to discuss the topic at the top of everyone’s mind: funding. Amy Le, owner of Saucy Porka, spoke about how she grew her business from a food truck to a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau explained how he relied on family and friends in the early days to invest in Dimo’s, his pizza restaurant, when he was unsuccessful in securing a bank loan. Galen Williams has learned as an investor and an entrepreneur about the best approach to fundraising. He shared helpful tips on how to find the right investor who will be a boon to a new business, rath- er than a bomb. Everyone in the audience saw that bringing passion and hard work is ultimately more important than raising lots of money.
More entrepreneurs shared their experiences in later sessions, talking about resilience in the face of rejection, distinctive marketing on small budgets and creating a local supply chain. Along with the information, attendees gobbled up a delicious lunch from local food trucks and restaurants, including IJ Clinic client Moon Meals.
The main course of the conference was a collection of presentations by IJ Clinic students. What the students lack in worldly experience, they make up for with research and diligence. The students clearly and creatively broke down the complex legalities of building successful food businesses. Their pre- sentations explained how to draw up an agreement among the founders of a business, how to get a license from the city to share a kitchen with other entrepreneurs, how to set up a business organization, how to label a food product in compliance with the com- plicated FDA rules and how to start a food truck or food cart. Where the laws make entrepreneurship impossible, we invited the courageous entrepreneurs to join us in our fight to change them.
The day was full of great ideas, great connections and great food. That night, 150 entrepreneurs dreamed the American Dream more vividly than ever before.
Beth Kregor is the director of the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship.