What’s Cooking in the Press

03-24-15   What’s Cooking Competition “Heats up”: Celebrating Culinary Concepts, with big rewards!

Harrisonburg, VA –  The What’s Cooking Concept Plan Competition is set to award finalists with thousands of dollars in interest free loans and prizes including commercial kitchen time and an array of professional services packages on April 20, 2015 at 6:00 p.m.  The production will feature an esteemed panel of judges and include a “People’s Choice” award to be voted on by the public in attendance at the Court Square Theatre.

The Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center (SV SBDC), Rockingham County, the City of Harrisonburg, and Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance created a pilot program that has encouraged entrepreneurs in the food business to consider key success factors in starting a business in the food industry. “At each of our Monday Meetings, we discuss different aspects of their businesses – from marketing to pricing to competitive analysis and lots in between. Our goal in the program is to assist our participants as they test ideas and fine-tune the concepts for viable businesses. All this leads to the Concept Plan Competition on April 20” said Joyce Krech, SV SBDC Director.

The five-month program followed a public information session held last September and kicked off with “Pitch Night” where prospective food business owners received constructive feedback from the community and ideas for their future restaurants, food trucks and specialty food products.

“Being a part of What's Cooking has been a wonderful experience. This program has helped not only me but so many others develop plans, brainstorm and connect with others in the food community. I came to the program with the basic idea of what I wanted to do and with the help of the program I have been able to expand and get from the ‘idea stages’ to the ‘concrete planning stages.’ This is an invaluable resource and program to small business owners” says Marsha Hyatt, a local food entrepreneur.

On April 20, approximately 15 contestants will be judged by a panel of industry professionals on the quality and appeal of their verbal and written business concept plans. Respective to their winning title, four contestants will be awarded with no-interest loans in the amounts of $5,000, $4,000, $3,000 and $2,000 with funds generated in part by the Building Entrepreneurial Economies (BEE) Innovation Grant. Additionally, winners are allotted 50, 40, 30 and 20 hours (also respective to their rank) in the Massanutten Technical Center’s Commercial Kitchen for product testing. Program sponsors Brown, Edwards & Co. and Estland Design will provide winners with free bookkeeping and tax and graphic design services. Vouchers for free workshops and events will be provided by the SV SBDC as well.

Concept Plan competitor Brian Puckett offered his thoughts on the program and upcoming competition – “Well for me, this opportunity is a dream come true. “What’s Cooking’ is what I do and have planned on since I was 5 – to open my own restaurant.  With what I learned from the SBDC and our speakers, I feel more knowledgeable about the food business and how to accomplish my dream.”

The People’s Choice Award will be presented to the contestant who receives the highest number of votes from members of the public attending the competition. The award however, will not be factored into the final winning placements, which will be decided by the judges.  The judge’s tally and final awards will be announced later that evening at the Capitol Ale House following the main event at Court Square Theatre.  To learn about the What’s Cooking program and Concept Plan Competition, call (540) 568-3227 or check the website at www.valleysbdc.org

About the SV SBDC: The SV SBDC was established in 1989 at James Madison University. It offers non-fee, confidential consulting services, assists with feasibility studies and business planning and sponsors training events to new and established small and medium-sized businesses in the Shenandoah Valley Region.

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10-22-14   Practicing the Pitch: Preparation begins for What's Cooking Program Participants

The first wave of applications submitted by local food business entrepreneurs to participate in the What's Cooking: The Business of Food competition were received by the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center this week.  Twenty- five applicants are set to participate in a dynamic program offering professional training, workshops and networking opportunities with food industry experts.  The program will assist entrepreneurs with market research, product development, financial projections and other important steps as they progress toward the final competition in mid-April 2015.  Prizes for the finalists include micro-financing assistance and free time in a certified commercial kitchen.

Of the twenty five who have entered the program, seven plan to open their own restaurants. Eight of the applicants are gearing up for various mobile operations including food trucks.   The remaining ten participants range widely in their concept proposals, including plans for retail stores and the production of specialty food items.  Ideas include Confectionaries, desserts, popcorn, root beer and the preparation of healthy and convenient meals to go, with locally sourced ingredients.  The majority of entrepreneurs plan to operate in the Harrisonburg-Downtown area.  Broadway and Dayton have also been identified as locations for food start-up businesses. More than half of the applicants cite financing and marketing as their major challenge. Fourteen of the main contacts who filed applications are women, and eleven are men.  At least six of the participants said they desire access to a certified kitchen to enable them to begin production of specialty foods.

What's Cooking participants had the opportunity to practice their pitch Thursday morning with SBDC staff and volunteer experts from the Communication Center at James Madison University.  "Communication is an essential element of everyday life from relationships and job interviews to public speeches.  At the Communication Center, we want to serve as a community resource to help empower individuals with communication confidence and skills" said Paul Mabrey, Communication Center Coordinator at JMU.

The first Pitch Night will be held Monday, October 27 from 6:30 until 9pm at the Ice House, 127 West Bruce Street.  Members of the community are invited to attend and provide support to the contestants with constructive feedback for the food-related businesses who have registered for the program.   For more information, visit www.ValleySBDC.org/WhatsCooking  or contact Allison Dugan, What's Cooking Program Manager  svsbdcwhatscooking@gmail.com Cell: 540-820-3808


9-26-14   “What’s Cooking”: The newest food experience coming to Harrisonburg - HDR

What’s Cooking is a unique opportunity coming to Harrisonburg! It’s a food competition for entrepreneurs looking to expand their skills professionally. The program says that anyone who wishes to start or expand a food-related business may participate, but the expectation is that the business must be located in or planned to be located in Rockingham County or Harrisonburg.

Recently, the city and county received a $35,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. Each entity has decided to set aside $2,500 (a total of $5,000) for the What's Cooking program. Joyce Krech, director of Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center, says the goal of the program is to, “Encourage, support, promote, and celebrate the thriving food-business and food entrepreneurs in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.”

The Department of Housing and Community Development awards Building Entrepreneurial Economics (BEE) Innovation Grants to, “Prime the pump of entrepreneurship and to actively support the entrepreneurial economy as a way of leveraging business and job creation.” They award “organizations that reach and deliver services to potential entrepreneurs in new and original ways.”

So where did this idea come from? Harrisonburg has a strong current and historical food culture. Also, Rockingham County boasts being the #1 agricultural region and Harrisonburg is a great place for markets that support the local agriculture.

Harrisonburg is not the first community to have a competition for food entrepreneurs wanting to start their own business. It is however somewhat unique in how the competition is designed with its use of the kitchen at FCFC and its emphasis of training and resources before the spring decision.

A few topics for future workshops for those interested in the competition would be:

-Basic start-up topics
-Market research or marketing
-Understanding financial statements and cash-flow
-Food pricing
-Operational issues

Resources could include:

-Consultation on specific topics
-Roundtable discussions with other entrepreneurs
-Connections to industry experts will be made available.

These are just ideas though, and will be modified based on the needs of the participants. The agenda is not set yet.

When asked how this competition and its outcome will benefit downtown, Joyce Krech replied, “Local diners and everyone involved benefit when businesses are strong and sustainable. Frequent start-ups can be exciting, but not when followed by frequent closings. Our goal is to encourage and support strong, healthy, long-term businesses.”

Does this sound like something you want to get involved in? The first interest meeting is. September 30th 6:30 to 7:30 pm at 127 W. Bruce St. (The Ice House offices). Pitches will be made in October and after that, workshops and resources will be available before the spring 2015 decision. They are also looking for a student to assist in video work or otherwise recording some of the activities.

Note: The current What’s Cooking program is actually phase one of a larger “Business of Food” initiative, which will include a full-day regional Food Business Conference in the summer of 2015 and other subsequent programs.


9-15-14   City Partners to Promote Food Business & Entrepreneurship - Daily News-Record

Harrisonburg, VA – The City of Harrisonburg will partner with Rockingham County, the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, and the Friendly City Food Co-op to promote the ever-growing food culture in Harrisonburg.

The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) awarded the City a $35,000 Building Entrepreneurial Economies (BEE) Innovation Grant to support their new “What’s Cooking” program.

“The intent of the innovation grant is to promote creative projects that can be replicated across the state to encourage business and entrepreneurship,” said Ande Banks, Director of Special Projects and Grant Management. “DHCD specifically seeks out projects that are supported by collaborative partnerships.”

“Our ‘What’s Cooking’ program will build on the growing food culture in the region, support existing businesses, cultivate new entrepreneurs, and serve as a model for future projects,” said Joyce Krech, Director of the SBDC. “The program’s first phase – the food business competition – is for both new and existing food-related businesses to define, test, and perfect their business concepts.”

How does the competition work?

Those interested in the competition will be invited to pitch their initial idea, receive constructive feedback and a formal assessment, take advantage of a wide array of training classes for food-related businesses, and then submit a more refined concept plan during a public competition hosted in Harrisonburg’s Downtown Culinary District.

On Tuesday, September 30 the partnering agencies invite members of the community to attend a free information session at the SBDC office in the Ice House (127 W. Bruce Street) from 6:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.

Winners of the competition will receive a no-interest loan, subsidized time in a commercial kitchen, and a variety of “in-kind” services from local businesses.

“Everyone wins in this competition if participants leave with a better plan for starting or expanding their business,” said Banks.