“Demand for local food has grown throughout the country, and Northern Colorado is no exception,” said Ashley Colpaart, a Ph.D. student in CSU’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition who has a passion for growing local food economies. But laws requiring all food producers to use a commercial kitchen space for preparing their goods has proven to be a barrier for many small food companies.
Colpaart, a budding entrepreneur, aims to help small food businesses connect with commercial kitchen space through her new startup: an online marketplace she has dubbed The Food Corridor — think Airbnb or Uber of the food world. She has pitched her startup at various business-pitch competitions throughout the region, including CSU’s Collegiate Challenge on April 27.
Colpaart hails from Austin, but landed in Colorado by way of Boston and San Diego, earning a master’s degree and working in the food sector. Her degrees are in food and nutrition, and food policy and applied nutrition. She is also a registered dietitian, and is earning her doctoral degree in Interdisciplinary Studies in Food Science and Food Safety under the co-advisement of FSHN’s Marisa Bunning and Dawn Thilmany McFadden in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
Colpaart says she came up with her startup concept while in the midst of accessing the sharing economy herself. She was traveling and reviewing grants while staying in an Airbnb rental, and upon her first Uber experience, her idea clicked. She saw that the way we have begun to share cars and homes could be integrated into the food economy as well.
“The sharing economy movement inspired me to apply the idea of monetizing underutilized assets to the food system,” said Colpaart. “The Food Corridor is the first online marketplace enabling local food entrepreneurs to connect with available commercial food infrastructure.”
The software is designed to provide smaller food production businesses with easy access to underutilized, commercial kitchens.
An underused asset
Colpaart feels she has tapped into a unique market and that she can create an on-demand access community around this idea. The endeavor supports community centers, schools and churches by highlighting commercial kitchens as an underused asset and a potential source of revenue, since many commercial kitchens are sitting idle 55 percent to 90 percent of the time.
At the same time, Colpaart offers a launching point for food entrepreneurs who cannot yet afford commercial kitchen equipment. The law requires that commercial food be produced in licensed commercial kitchens that can cost between $50,000 and $250,000 to build. Easier access to these kitchens dissolves roadblocks that many food-related startups face. The Food Corridor also provides online customer management, booking and payment processing.
Prior to competing in the CSU Collegiate Challenge, Colpaart won first place in University of Northern Colorado’s Monfort College of Business Entrepreneurial Challenge, securing $25,000 toward The Food Corridor. While she was not selected as a winner in the CSU Collegiate Challenge, she took away vital expert advice for her startup and gained valuable experience.
Colpaart competed and fared very well in several pitch competitions, including Galvanize Fort Collins, 22 Entrepreneurs in Boulder and BonAppetech in San Francisco. She also won silver in the 2016 Food+City Challenge Prize in Austin, Texas, and was a finalist in the SXSW Innovation Awards for the New Economy. By participating in these events, Colpaart said she hopes to “inspire other academic minds with an entrepreneurial spirit to think of big, bold ways to solve real-world problems.”
The Collegiate Challenge is part of the Institute for Entrepreneurship in CSU’s College of Business. Find out more at www.csucollegiatechallenge.org.
The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition is in the College of Health and Human Sciences at CSU.