What We Do
According to the United Nations Development Fund for Women, there is an ever increasing body of evidence suggesting that gender equality helps economies. When women are able to obtain decent jobs and acquire assets, they earn incomes and accumulate savings which help themselves, and their families. Productivity is spurred by the expanded pool of human resources, talents and economic contributions. As a result, feminized poverty declines.
The food industry has a notoriously high cost of entry: the fees for licensed and insured commercial kitchen space, the start-up costs to open a restaurant, the standards set to compete for shelf space at specialty stores and large retailers. Such restrictive barriers to entry often discourage burgeoning food entrepreneurs, especially women, from launching a business. Those who do face an uphill battle for success in an overwhelming and incredibly crowded marketplace.
During the Global Economic Opportunity Circle's grant cycle, Members were intrigued by the opportunity to assist local nonprofit La Cocina with growing and scaling their food entrepreneurship program, which helps motivated entrepreneurs raise themselves out of poverty and provides a platform for these to hone their skills and successfully transition into the highly regulated and competitive food industry.
The mission of La Cocina is to cultivate food entrepreneurs as they formalize and grow their businesses by providing affordable commercial kitchen space, industry-specific technical assistance and access to market opportunities. They focus primarily on women from culturally diverse and immigrant communities. La Cocina's vision is that entrepreneurs will become economically self-sufficient and contribute to a vibrant economy doing what they love to do.
Full Circle Fund Role
La Cocina had, after four years in operation, assisted 318 low-income food entrepreneurs, including intensive assistance to 30 low-income owners. A beloved institution in the community, La Cocina is on the right track, but because of their high touch model, and the many challenges food entrepreneurs face to make it on their own, they have produced just three graduates. These three graduates are doing exceptionally well, and one business has scaled nationally. Last year, La Cocina's businesses had 1.3 million in sales!
La Cocina feels that the graduation of their businesses is essential to proving the effectiveness of their model. If the obstacles to graduation could be reduced, La Cocina would be better positioned to: facilitate the self-sufficiency and financial success of a majority of their businesses; unleash their own potential to scale and attract additional revenue from individual and institutional funding sources, and, establish themselves as a model for other incubator programs.
Full Circle Fund's partnership intends to assist La Cocina with evaluating their current model through a process of internal interviews and external research. The goal is to help increase the number of businesses successfully graduating from the incubator program each year. With six more businesses on track to graduate in December 2009, and ten more in 2010-2011, this is an exciting opportunity for Full Circle Fund to have an impact on building economic self sufficiency for low income residents in the Bay Area.
Based on these three threads of the project, the team broke up into sub groups in order to conduct research and make best practice recommendations. The first sub-team looked at program structure and focused their work on how to strengthen the graduation curriculum and overall program by addressing barriers and disincentives to success. Examples of their recommendations include implementing incremental goals and clear consequences for participants missing target and creating and using a dashboard of basic business metrics.
A second sub-team addressed La Cocina's program participants' access to capital. Their work involved identifying partners that can address participants' need for and barriers to capital, such as a new partnership with Opportunity Fund. A final sub-team looked closely at developing partnerships with other organizations to scale impact and continue building brand identity, while protecting La Cocina's unique niche.
The team believes that their recommendations will to enable La Cocina to launch more successfully-graduated businesses, enable businesses to move through program more quickly and allow the organization to handle more businesses in the program overall. The team's findings will also support better allocation of staff and volunteer resources, the ability to graduate more resilient businesses and finally, ensure that La Cocina will have reliable partnerships moving forward.
Learn more about La Cocina's programs and see profiles of three food entrepreneurs by watching Hidden Entrepreneurs, a documentary by Amanda Huelse.
NAME: La Cocina
"Through Full Circle Fund's partnership, we implemented changes that made our programming better and our delivery stronger. Full Circle Fund gave us a unique opportunity to brainstorm and execute in a way that we never had before. The results were significant, and the changes are evident in our program today."
Copyright 2013 Full Circle Fund