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Food biz class gives students taste of success

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A new program created by Portland Community College’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the Oregon State University Food Innovation Center is giving students the tools to take their product to the next level.

A group of budding food entrepreneurs has been meeting in downtown Portland the past 15 weeks, learning how to hit it big with their special recipe. From barbecue sauce to gluten-free sweets, they’re following their dream.

The unique program, Getting Your Recipe to Market, is the result of six months of intense planning by Jackie Babicky-Peterson of the SBDC, and Aaron Johnson, who heads up the Food Innovation Center (FIC). Babicky-Peterson and Johnson put together a program which pairs small business development with food industry expertise.

“A successful food business has two parts – food and business,” said Babicky-Peterson. “Great food products become market successes only when they are supported by a strong, profitable business. The goal of this program is to give students the skills to make sure that happens.”

Getting Your Recipe to Market offers a required introductory class that provides an overview and evaluates readiness for the full course; and a full 15-week class, which gives industry-specific information on creating, perfecting, manufacturing and distributing and selling the products, along with one-one-one mentoring.

The topics include “Best Manufacturing Practices: Running a Successful Food Business, “The Basics of Record Keeping,” “Introduction to Food Marketing that Works,” and “Business Entities and Taxes: What You Need to Know.”

On its own, the course would be valuable for anyone starting or hoping to grow a food business, but New Seasons Market sweetened the pot. The local, upscale grocery store kicked in $2,000 to the food business idea judged most likely to succeed, along with shelf space in their stores.

At the final class during the inaugural offering fall term, each student made a 10-minute presentation to a panel of experts, which included the president of New Seasons and a representative from Provista, a specialty foods company. Laurel Hutton of Laurel Sweet Treats took the prize.

“I was both nervous and excited during the presentation,” said Hutton, who makes a variety of dry, gluten-free baking mixes in her licensed home kitchen such as Banzo Bread Mix, Chocolate Dream Brownie Mix, Onion Ring Batter Mix and Good ’Ol Corn Bread Mix. “Gluten-free doesn’t have to taste like dusty cardboard. The judges were impressed that the products tasted great.

“(I took the class to) get answers to a lot of questions and find the help to get my business to the next level – in its own manufacturing facility. For me, the best part of this class has been the networking and the mentoring,” Hutton added.

Tammy Marquez, lead SBDC counselor for the project, mentored Hutton and the other business owners. She owns Marquez Project Management, LLC, which specializes in business consulting.

“It created a fantastic marriage,” said Marquez of the partnership. “This provided the entrepreneur with the tools to get their product to market. And we couldn’t have asked for a better retailer than the New Seasons Market.”

In addition to Laurel’s Sweet Treats, New Seasons decided to award shelf space to two runners-up – Russell Street Bar-B-Que Sauce and La Calaca Comelona Salsa – both Portland restaurant owners. The market is also giving shelf space to the other food business owners, once their products are ready for commercial distribution.

“Each student came away feeling so encouraged,” said Babicky-Peterson.

Food is a big piece of Oregon’s small business scene, according to Babicky-Peterson. Of the 305 businesses the SBDC helped six months prior to the start of the class, 15 involved food products. In addition, the U.S. Small Business Administration reports that 3,300 non-employer food and accommodation businesses were in operation in Oregon in 2004.

To launch “Getting Your Recipe to Market,” the Food Innovation Center earmarked approximately $8,000 to publicize the program and create a Web site, The introductory class will be offered spring term, Tuesday, April 3, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the OSU Food Innovation Center, located at 1207 N.W. Naito Parkway, Suite 154. Interested students can call 503-977-4933 at Portland Community College to register and will need to have the course number 28083 ready in order to sign up. The introductory course costs $150 and the 15-week program is $1,995.

For more information on this program or other Small Business Development Center courses, call 503-978-5080.

Portland Community College is the largest post-secondary institution in Oregon, serving approximately 88,200 full- and part-time students. For more PCC news, please visit us on the Web at PCC has three comprehensive campuses, five workforce training and education centers, and 200 community locations in the Portland metropolitan area. The PCC district encompasses a 1,500-square-mile area in northwest Oregon and offers two-year degrees, one-year certificate programs, short-term training, alternative education, pre-college courses and life-long learning.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »