The Rural Food Venture Program, a transformative initiative among the Small Business Development Center at TROY, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, and the Sorrell College of Business, has nurtured aspiring food entrepreneurs and ignited economic growth in communities across the Wiregrass.
The program ran in two phases – one focused on existing restaurants and food trucks, and the second focused on pre-venture and early phase food entrepreneurs. It was made possible through a grant from USDA.
From the outset, the program set out to equip participants with the necessary skills, knowledge, and resources to thrive in the competitive food industry. Phase One of the program focused on social media management, crafting compelling value propositions, enhancing food photography, standardizing recipes, and creating nutritional labels. Armed with these newfound skills, participants were well-positioned to launch retail-ready products and expand their customer base.
Building on the success of the first phase, the second phase focused providing start-up food entrepreneurs with essential guidance to formalize their ideas and transform them into viable food businesses. Over the course of intensive training and mentorship, participants honed their business acumen, refined their concepts, and prepared to make their mark in the culinary landscape.
On June 29th, the program reached its climax with an exhilarating pitch competition. Seven talented individuals took the stage, showcasing their innovative ideas and impressive entrepreneurial prowess. As the audience held their breath in anticipation, the panel of judges carefully evaluated each pitch, taking into account factors such as creativity, value proposition, and presentation.
The winners of this competition left an indelible mark with their exceptional presentations, said SBDC Director Juliana Bolivar.
Troy University Business professor Dr. Ed Pappanastos received the People’s Choice Award, earning recognition for his captivating vision and passion for cookie making. Jamelia Williams, the creative mind behind Troy’s “It’s a Sweet Thing,” emerged as the Best Overall winner, impressing the judges with her sweets food truck concept. Courtney Swindle, the visionary behind “The Candied Siren” in Daleville, secured the Best Value Proposition award, showcasing a combination of innovation and market appeal.
“These remarkable entrepreneurs, along with Phase One winners such as Rike’s Tacos,’ ‘Grit and Grind,’ and ‘W. Walnut Cookie Co.,’ are set to embark on an exciting journey of growth and success,” Bolivar said. “As part of their well-deserved recognition, they will receive specialized marketing consulting and valuable tools to amplify their brand presence, attract new customers, and accelerate their business growth.”
Sorrell College Dean Dr. Judson Edwards said the program demonstrates the impact that can be through collaboration.
“The Rural Food Venture Program stands as a shining example of what can be achieved through collaborative efforts and a shared vision. The partnership between USDA, SBDC, and Sorrell College of Business has not only fostered a vibrant culinary community but also contributed to the economic development of the region,” he said.
Bolivar said she anticipated the program to serve as a model for other communities.
“We hope this initiative serves as an inspiration for other communities to support culinary tourism and the food truck industry as a nascent business model that serves as the support of many families and brings vibrancy to our communities,” she said. “This program is definitely a potential model for other communities in supporting formalization of food activities by providing education and tools for growth,” she added.
“Culinary entrepreneurs who once harbored dreams of bringing their unique flavors to the world have been equipped with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to turn their visions into reality. Through this program, the community has witnessed firsthand the transformative power of nurturing local talent and fostering entrepreneurial spirit,” she said. “By supporting aspiring entrepreneurs and providing them with the necessary tools to thrive, this collaborative initiative has left an indelible mark on the culinary landscape, shaping a vibrant future for the region.”