Indienomics

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The edible microenterprise

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micro-kitchen

Micro-kitchen:
Food startups in the small batch economy

Forget silicon chips, search algorithms, and semiconductors — the most delicious startups today aren’t tech, they’re food startups! Instead of garages, the tinkering goes on in communal kitchens, with yummy results just waiting to be monetized.

Take a look around your nearest local market (especially the outdoors ones) and you’ll observe the artisan effect — the interest that people take in small food vendors who make a great product.

Brooklyn Flea is the trading floor of the food micro-enterprise market. A recent NYMag article highlighted this year’s newest small-operations vendors (among them, Elsa’s Empanadas, Saxelby Cheesemongers) and noted:

When the Brooklyn Flea launched a year ago on an asphalt schoolyard in Fort Greene, no one expected it to become a dining destination—never mind a springboard for the fledgling careers of the food vendors who gravitated there. The Flea, in fact, has become something of an incubator for micro-batch, locally made products, from pickles to ice pops.

Kathrine Gregory formalized this incubator concept in her communal kitchen operation in Long Island City, called Mi Kitchen is Su Kitchen. She owns three facilities, each one with its own specialty and equipment. Food manufacturers (bakers, quiche-makers, etc) come and rent a few shifts at a time, to get access to commercial equipment you couldn’t fit in a typical NYC apartment (nor would you necessarily want in your personal living space): a revolving rack oven, an 80-quart mixer.

“Food operation startups are capital-intensive,” says Kathrine. “If you’re going to grow a food business, you need a proper foundation, some kind of legal entity like a DBA or LLC or Inc. You need commercial space with licensing and the structure to grow your business.” In other words, once your home-made chili mango salsa recipe becomes a hit and you want to distribute outside of your friends and family, your home kitchen becomes a liability. You enter a professional space that requires inspection by insurance companies and the State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Kathrine was a guest on WNYC radio yesterday, when The Brian Lehrer show aired a segment called “Growing Together” — about the power of collaboration in today’s small businesses (listen here, 19 minutes).

Elsa's Empanadas

Elsa's Empanadas

Kathrine’s food incubator doesn’t target the “business people” who run food enterprises, it targets the “manufacturers” who actually make and craft the food products.

In her words, “It’s not the restaurateurs and it’s not the cafe owner, it is the brownie-maker and the pickler. This is the manufacturer who is going to sell their product to the Dean & Deluca’s, the cafe owners, the restaurant.”

Like baby chickens, young businesses are vulnerable. They need protection from the harsh world if they are to survive and grow. A business incubator provides that protection to young startups, according to another guest on the “Growing Together” segment — David Hochman, CEO of the Business Incubator Association of New York (whose logo is in fact a hatched egg).

David’s organization draws on national academic research on business incubation, citing an 80% survival rate of startups, 5 years after graduating from an incubation center — and a majority of those startups stay local, in the region where they started. This is encouraging news for regions that need to harness local entrepreneurial activity into a focal point, like an incubator, whether the industry is high-tech or new media or food-related.

While there is no typical business incubator space, Mi Kitchen is a literal cookie-cutter place, and proud of it.

making cookies at Mi Kitchen est Su Kitchen

making cookies at Mi Kitchen

Photo:
Gabriele Stabile for NYT, When Cooks’ Dreams Outgrow Their Ovens

Written by @hellopanelo

April 17, 2009 at 9:44 am

Like-Minded Studio presents… Amanda Conley

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Logo from creative firm Like Minded Studio (TM)

Logo from creative firm Like Minded Studio (TM)

At last month’s Creative Commons salon, I met Amanda Conley — self-professed radical feminist and lawyer-to-be at NYU Law. Amanda brings an interesting legal perspective to the “free culture” debates. After all, the very notion of “property” — physical or intellectual — is grounded in complex histories of common law. Amanda is also a privacy law researcher for an NSF-funded grant on digitized court documents.

We sat down for $3 pints at Commonwealth Bar in Park Slope and talked about culture, copyright, and — dun-dun! — the law.

panelo-conley-qa-headshots-copy

Me: Good puppy! What’s your dog’s name?

Amanda: This is Gus. He’s a Tibetan terrier. It’s a misnomer though, they’re not truly terriers. I’ll let him explore. [Gus wanders, unleashed.]

Me: So you’re a rebellious lawyer!

Amanda: Well, I recently attended Reblaw 2009 at Yale, a conference for rebellious lawyers and social change. It made me realize I don’t want to be an activist. I want to be the person asking different questions about using the legal system to achieve different ends. What you learn in law school is that the way you frame your question is everything.

Me: I internet-stalked you and saw you were a fan of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Amanda: It’s not stalking if I post the information publicly to the internet. Yes, the EFF attracts laywers who aren’t in a corporate gig. It’s law for the people. There is this annoying dichotomy in law school that you are either corporate or public interest. I prefer to sidestep the binary.

Me: You were at an event at NYU’s Public Interest Law Center, where you got a chance to hear Fred von Lohmann speak — the senior staff attorney at EFF, specializing in intellectual property matters.

Amanda: Yes, Fred went from women’s interests to IP law, back in the 90’s when the internet was young. He’s interested in both gender and the law. There are more women lawyers now and they’re more into theory. Fred talked to us about his conversion moment, when he decided “I want to be a public interest copyright lawyer.”

[Ed. note: Fred attributes this moment to reading the 1994 Wired article “The Economy of Ideas”, by John Perry Barlow, the Thomas Jefferson of cyberspace.]

Me: Why do you think feminist scholars are attracted to intellectual property law?

Amanda: IP law is all about theory, and theoretical questions. In IP law, the questions are like “What is a person’s identity?”

Me: It’s like an intellectual challenge, or philosophy.

Amanda: There was this interesting case where the International News Service was taking news from the AP wire and publishing it first. The questions that come from that are “Is news copyrightable? When does news have value?” News is something that has value the moment it is shared and, upon sharing, loses value.

Me: How else do you intersect with copyright or privacy issues in law school?

Amanda: I’m also doing research in privacy law and court documents that are public on the internet.

Me: Like the sex offenders registry maps online?

Amanda: Right. For example, divorce documents are becoming more public in higher courts. Nothing’s redacted. But there’s a big difference between looking up something on the internet, versus physically walking down to the courthouse. The internet is creating in-depth profiles of people. But people are supposed to know the law and have access to judicial information. In that sense, we should make things available to the public.

Me: What was your favorite part of the Creative Commons salon?

Amanda: I really liked Thingiverse. I loved the idea of “What if every object was shareable?”

[Ed. note: Thingiverse is a website where people can upload digital designs for physical objects — kind of like architect blueprints for buildings. Anyone can upload a design, and anyone else can create the object, or modify it and make it better. In an ideal Thingiverse universe, every physical object — like the chair you are sitting on — would have a URL, and anyone could look up the design of that chair, and create it, or improve on the design so others could have a better chair.]

Amanda: Sometimes it’s easy to poo-poo the internet and say “Why would anyone want to build a plastic rocket? We want to build things for a useful future!” But what Thingiverse does is make more concrete the value of building on other’s work, instead of starting fresh. The internet shows there are lots of smart people out there. It illustrates the power of working together.

Written by @hellopanelo

March 24, 2009 at 6:30 pm