Mission: La Cocina’s mission is to cultivate food entrepreneurs, primarily women from culturally diverse and immigrant communities, as they formalize and grow their businesses by providing affordable commercial kitchen space, industry-specific technical assistance and access to market opportunities. La Cocina’s vision is that entrepreneurs will become economically self-sufficient and contribute to a vibrant economy doing what they love to do.
Approach: 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. In 2008, La Cocina’s businesses made $1.3 million in sales!
Full Circle Fund’s partnership assisted La Cocina with evaluating their current model through a process of internal interviews and external research. The goal was 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 10 more in 2010-2011, this was an exciting opportunity for Full Circle Fund to have an impact on building economic self-sufficiency for low-income residents in the Bay Area.
The team of Full Circle Fund Members 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.
Members recommended that La Cocina implement 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.
Full Circle Fund Members’ recommendations enabled La Cocina to launch more successfully-graduated businesses, allowed businesses to move through program more quickly and helped the organization to handle more businesses in the program overall.
Since Full Circle Fund’s involvement in 2009, La Cocina grew from an $800,000 organization to a $2 million organization.
Members helped to identify innovative microfinance resources to increase entrepreneurs’ access to capital.
Learn more about La Cocina’s programs and see profiles of three food entrepreneurs by watching Hidden Entrepreneurs, a documentary by Amanda Huelse.