Everybody you know loves those baked beans you make from the recipe your grandmother handed down. And you’re just sure a lot more folks would love them, too — if only you could figure out how to get them to a mass market.
That’s where Hagerstown Community College’s new Mama’s Biscuits Culinary Incubator comes in.
Through this program of HCC’s David W. Fletcher Incubator and Labs, you can learn all about the rules, regulations, packaging, marketing, pitfalls and everything else associated with getting your beans to market, all from somebody who’s been through it herself.
Lesley Riley is the face behind Mama’s Biscuits, the company she started in 2014 and rebranded five years later.
Her product is gourmet frozen biscuits. And they come in dozens of gourmet flavors, ranging from basic buttermilk biscuits to bananas Foster and Kahlua-stuffed brie.
She’s been mentoring the first group of culinary entrepreneurs at the incubator, and those attending its grand opening Wednesday will get to sample some of their wares.
So what exactly is this incubator?
David W. Fletcher Incubator and Labs offers work space, business development and mentorship to local business owners and entrepreneurs. Think of it as a “maker space” for business.
The culinary incubator offers use of a commercial kitchen for a fee. But advice and mentoring from Mama Biscuit herself? That’s free.
“One of the nice things about the culinary incubator is these entrepreneurs get what I didn’t get,” Riley said. “They get the coaching from (Director Justina Shaw), they get the one-on-one mentoring where they schedule appointments with me every Tuesday — or whatever day it is I’m here.”
But she expects them to deliver on what they’re learning.
“I do give them action items when I mentor them, and then they cannot schedule again until they actually complete those action items,” Riley said.
She knows why.
“Sometimes we get in ruts as entrepreneurs; we get stuck,” she said. “And so I call that ‘entrepreneur fatigue.’ And so when they get stuck … I work with them in dialing down into what got them there in the first place, and then we figure out a way to come back and get them jump-started again.”
The incubator kitchen is available for most any food business, including food trucks or just chefs
“Where I come in is if they want to work on getting their packaged goods into stores,” Riley said. And I’m working with them on packaging, labeling, even setting up meetings with brokers, buyers and everything.”
As she was developing her own business, “the hardest thing to work through was being in this (consumer package goods) space,” Riley said, “and when I started in this space, about seven years ago, people weren’t as forthcoming with information … . There was no information out there; everything was so guarded. And now you have little bits and pieces and stuff out there.
“But then you have people like me that are willing to share the information. Most entrepreneurs back then weren’t willing to share the information. And I think that was the most frustrating part, like how do you figure out your margins?”
While there are tools online that can help figure some of it out, they’re not always ideal.
“So there’s things out there that, you know, they’re out there on the internet, but they don’t dial down into it like you need to,” she said. “And it can be costly; it can be costly. So my role is to make sure that the entrepreneurs don’t make those costly mistakes like I did.”
Whether participants want to market a retail product, sell their food online or operate a food truck, Riley will offer advice on marketing, pricing, all stages of getting the product to the public.
“It’s all genres of food,” she said, “and it’s all different levels that we assist with.”
And while the participants pay for time in the incubator’s commercial kitchen, all that sage advice from Mama Biscuit? That’s free.
“I think that’s what that’s what makes our program so sought after, is because you you’re getting (help) from every level,” Riley said. “My plan is to bring in some buyers from major companies to talk to the entrepreneurs. The goal is to bring in some brokers to come in and talk to the entrepreneurs and even — I have friends that have been on ‘Shark Tank’; they’re going to come in and talk to the entrepreneurs as well.”
In other words, participants get access to the network Riley built while developing Mama’s Biscuits.
Where do I start?
There’s a three-month process before participants actually get into the incubator’s kitchen, according to Justina Shaw, director of the Fletcher Incubator and Labs.
The Fletcher program has provided space and assistance for entrepreneurs in fields ranging from cybersecurity, biotech, app development and product development in addition to food and service providers.
“We have a longer process for kitchen people to become part of the incubator in comparison to our tech people because when you produce food, the state, the county, the city have more regulations and expectations,” Shaw said.
Potential participants are given a checklist of conditions to meet, such as meeting with Herb Melrath of the Small Business Development Center to learn to develop a business plan, then meeting with Shaw “to discuss, do you feel like you have the drive to weather the storm? And is this something you’re ready to do today?” she said.
Then Shaw and Melrath discuss which of the applicants the best candidates.
“We schedule time for them to start some classes,” she said, including the eight-hour class for ServSafe and classes to prepare for using a commercial kitchen.
And when they’ve completed those steps, they meet with Mama Biscuit herself as the final choices are made.
“And then we start bringing all those people together to form the cohort” to begin development classes with Riley, Shaw said. The next cohort is set to begin that work in July.
Riley said after initially meeting with Shaw, she agreed to be part of the Fletcher Incubator program because she was already trying to help others through the process of getting to market.
“She just basically said that I would work with the entrepreneurs and mentor them. And I was so I was on board when she said that; I was completely on board only because I did that anyway,” Riley said.
Everyone’s invited to come to the Mama’s Biscuits Culinary Incubator’s grand opening from 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday at HCC, which will feature current incubator members Garden Bounty Vegan Cuisine, Harambee54, KreeativeKreations 2Catering, Sufi, The Coffee Spot and Urban Delightz.
And if you’re ready to start reaching for that apron yourself, find more information on the incubator program at https://incubatorhcc.com/ or call or text (240) 625-2922.