VIDEO Sitting down with The Hatchery CEO: 'We would love to set the standard for all incubators in the country'

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Chicago incubator The Hatchery will open the doors to its new 67,000-square-foot facility next month where CEO Natalie Shmulik wants to provide entrepreneurs with the tools to launch a thriving food or beverage business.

Chicago continues to be a hub for some major food and beverage startups turned CPG powerhouses -- Simple Mills, RXBAR, Enjoy Life Foods, and others -- with untapped potential to form a robust, connected ecosystem of food and beverage innovation, according to Shmulik.

"There’s this unique energy in Chicago, which is kind of this modest energy where there’s so much creativity and passion that exist, but then it’s not necessarily always vocalized or communicated, at least until there’s a great success like RXBAR and you hear these big acquisitions, then everyone goes, ‘Where did they come from?’,”​ Shmulik told FoodNavigator-USA. 

"There’s so much amazing information here, it’s just a matter of creating the ecosystem so we can tap into that information. And that’s what the Hatchery is all about. We’re a connector."

Breaking down the top food startup barriers

Outside of finances to get a food startup off the ground and into the marketplace, many of the challenges for food entrepreneurs lie in the unknown, said Shmulik.

"The biggest barrier has always been finances, and that’s at every stage. In addition to finances it’s a lot of not knowing what you don’t know,"​ Shmulik said. 

The Hatchery​ wants to see food startups and big CPG collaborating in its co-working space on many different levels.

"Our fiscal sponsors are Conagra, Kellogg, and Griffith Foods, so we already work with a lot of very well established organizations that have great success in the industry,"​ she said. 

It was essential to bridge the knowledge both large and small early-stage food and beverage companies had by creating a collaborative, expansive space in the East Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago. 

"There was a little bit of that concern for startups early on when it came to having that conversation with a big CPG company and getting a better understanding of their intentions. The desired outcome is for everyone to grow and for everyone to be successful."

Resources available to Hatchery members

Along with a large shared kitchen space that startups can rent by the hour, The Hatchery's new facility has private kitchens for those companies that may have outgrown a shared kitchen but still need access to R&D resources.

Ingredient supplier Ingredion is on-site and available to offer formulation and ingredient expertise, and Synergy Flavors is also looking to establish a kitchen area at The Hatchery to help support smaller companies on flavoring choices and taste profiles. 

Micro-loan lender, Accion, also has an office at the new facility to help guide startups through financing decisions. 

"We’re a startup for startups so we get the opportunity to experiment with the space and we want to be as innovative as the entrepreneurs that are producing here,"​ Shmulik said.

Once open, The Hatchery will also feature open concept shared working spaces as well as an outdoor space to create the startup community vibe it is after. The Hatchery also offers food industry classes teaching everything from food safety and labeling to industry trends and trademark law. 

"We would love to set the standard for all incubators throughout the country and the world, so that they can see a model that works really well where it’s involving a lot of different parties and partners."

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