Anonymous donor steps up to the plate to fund ASU foodpreneur program

With new funding and a new coordinator, Prepped — a free, early-stage food business incubator at Arizona State University — is accepting applications for its sixth cohort to begin in spring 2019.

The program is a collaboration from the office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the College of Nursing and Health Innovation with additional support from the College of Health Solutions.

The new donors chose to remain anonymous, as they wanted the impact of their gift to be the focus.

“This couple was inspired by the accomplishments of the entrepreneurs over the past couple of years and they wanted to help ensure future success, so they’ve committed to funding Prepped for the next two years. We are incredibly grateful to them for their generosity,” said Rick Hall, director of health innovation programs and clinical professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

In addition to providing funding to keep the program free for the business owners and to reimburse costs toward food-safety training and permits, the significant gift also allowed for a new program coordinator position.

Natalie Morris was recently hired for the job, bringing a wealth of experience to the role. Her academic background is in food culture, communications and culinary arts. She’s also a food entrepreneur herself and has worked in nutrition, academia and grassroots nonprofits over the past 12 years.

“Natalie is a perfect fit to coordinate the efforts of Prepped. She has worked in the local food ecosystem for several years and has developed a strong network in the community. Natalie has a passion for empowering food entrepreneurs and is also very interested in sustainability, an important issue that she is infusing into the curriculum,” Hall said.

Morris says Prepped essentially brings all of her interests and backgrounds together, helping small food-based businesses achieve liftoff and doing so in an inspiring academic setting.

One of her favorite aspects of the program and also the most rewarding is getting to work alongside the female entrepreneurs who participate.

“I’m just back here putting the pieces together each week; they’re the ones who are managing their businesses in addition to being mothers, caretakers, bill-payers and everything else at all times. I love that I have the opportunity to contribute to making their lives even the tiniest bit more manageable and that Prepped has been designed to give them the tools to run businesses efficiently,” said Morris.

Her vision is to build on the momentum and achievements of previous cohorts while introducing new elements that support the sustained success of each of the participants.

“When we are thinking about the curriculum, the instructors or mentors, or our community partners, we are always thinking about how these pieces of the puzzle will be of value for everyone. One such example I’m proud to announce is that we’ve collaborated with the FoodLab at ASU’s School of Sustainability to integrate more corporate sustainability techniques into the weekly lessons and, in looking ahead, having our own commercial kitchen (a priority need for food businesses) is on our radar,” Morris said.

Originally founded in 2016 by Ji Mi Choi, associate vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development at ASU, Prepped’s growth and the community it has created are two things she is incredibly proud of.

“When we started Prepped just over two years ago, we didn’t anticipate just how impactful the program would be. We have been able to support dozens of entrepreneurs in the scaling up of their food-based businesses, accelerating the growth of revenues exponentially, and helping create dozens of jobs. And perhaps most importantly, fostering a community where even long after participants have completed the program, they still come together around food, culture and helping each other in any way they can,” Choi said.

To date, 63 businesses have been prepped and, as Choi said, the supportive community they’ve built continues as they get ready to welcome the next cohort.

Devereaux Jackson from Q-Tsie was in one of the early cohorts and says the experience exceeded expectations and continues to even now.

“This is abundance. I am continually in awe at the wealth of industry knowledge and support that Prepped has made available to us. I am immensely grateful,” Jackson said.

For anyone on the fence about applying, Morris says if you fit the eligibility, don’t let fear stand in your way. Instead, just go for it.

The program runs each fall and spring with applications for the next cohort open now. The deadline to apply is Dec. 31.

For eligibility and additional program information, visit the Prepped website: https://nursingandhealth.asu.edu/prepped.

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