And the Winner is..
I attended a Startup Kitchen competition sponsored by ThinkLocalFirstDC on Monday, February 25th held at the Tabula Rasa event space at Barracks Row, a main street of Capital Hill in Washington, D.C. The competitors for this competition were Yael Krigman of Baked by Yael , Nadia Mitchem of S’Mores Amore and Meg Murray of Thunder Pig Confectionary. The Concept of this event was that 3 food producers in the DC area compete to raise funds for their culinary venture. In a nutshell, The winner was offered an 8-week incubation and mentorship program with Penny Karas of Hello Cupcake in her Barracks Row location – here’s the actual competition info:
Through a competitive process modeled on the Kauffman Foundation’s StartUp Weekend, food entrepreneurs will be given the opportunity to present their concepts before a panel of food industry veterans who will critique their business plans, offer constructive advice and review the general soundness of the concepts. The selected winner of the competition will be given access to an existing restaurant during its off hours, mentorship of the incubating business owner as well as assistance marketing and running a ticketed Pop-Up of their concept for six weeks. The restaurateur will receive 75% of ticket sales from restaurant as well as feedback from the consumers dining. The long-term goal is the growth of StartUp Kitchen incubators citywide. StartUp Kitchen is a joint partnership between Think Local First DC and NURISH: Center for Creative Culinary Economy.
The evening began with a nice reception of sparkling wine and tons of sweets – take a look..About 50 people watched the Judges and the competitors each make 10 minute presentations with 10 minutes of mostly Judge questioning. Yael started and of course we got to sample her Cakepop. Yael was very seasoned and professional, but maybe the presentation was a bit “canned” – her background was as a Corporate Lawyer, and it really showed for 2 reasons: 1)she’s a perfectionis and she had pretty much memorized her verbal presentation, 2)she was very secretive about her financial matters. Although I understand were she was coming from, she really needed to let go a bit and show the passion..maybe even show a little emotion – it’s obvious she could make WAY more money as a corporate attorney, the only reason to get into a Startup food business is an emotional release and the “possibility” of one day making it Big. I also thought her Cake Pops were too sweet and when I heard the retail price was $2.75 for essentially 2 bites of cake and icing, I didn’t get it! Having said this, I spoke with her afterwards and I actually felt her desire to succeed – I mentioned that her concept would do best as a corporate event giveaway or for weddings and personal catered events – there is no reason to open up a storefront and compete with the world!
The next competitors were the S’mores Amore ladies – they focused on their presentation on the vegetarian and potentially vegan aspect of their s’mores. To be honest, I really enjoyed their product with the crunchy cookie and chocolate, but the marshmallow..well, it wasn’t really a marshmallow – it had no fluff to it..this is because they don’t use gelatin because it’s an animal-based product. My thoughts were these were 2 passionate food producers who don’t really need a storefront – there are enough family, friends and friends of friends in their circles for them both to make a nice profit just selling there. Too many entrepreneurs want to open a storefront and expand too quickly before they’ve exhausted their existing resources – the people they already know. The other reason to focus on your existing personal networks is feedback – is there really enough demand for vegetarian desserts, should this just be an option that they offer?
And the final presentation was the winning presenter – Megan Murray of Thunder Pig Confectionary (here’s an article of her win on Eater) – This was an easy choice for a few reasons: 1)She showed the passion and even a bit of nervousness in her presenation that just made it very Real, 2)Her background and culinary training plus she works at a fine dining restaurant in the region (The Foodie Mafia!), 3)Even though she sampled 3 products, they were all very good (especially the Salted Caramel and the Marshmallows!) and 4)She knew her competitive market or at least mentioned that – it’s next to impossible to find decent caramels and handmade marshmallows in the DC market. I also found out that she was already producing her products for wholesale at Union Kitchen, a new culinary incubator which just began in the area. She won the competition and I’m sure you’ll hear about her products soon in the DC area!