Food & beverage accelerator takes new approach to developing startups

By Polo Rocha, WisBusiness.com

food_unsplash_webShelley Jurewicz is bringing the tech accelerator model to one of Wisconsin’s oldest clusters: food and beverages.

That’s because, the exec director of FaB Wisconsin says, “a food startup is nothing like a tech startup” and needs specialized mentoring. It’s part of an effort from the group to develop companies and partnerships in the food and beverage space.

And the sector is much broader than the state’s makers of beer, cheese and brats, Jurewicz said. The industry also includes the whole supply chain that leads up to the finished product, she said, from ingredient makers to packagers and distributors.

“It’s a remarkable story that doesn’t get told,” Jurewicz said, “because they’re not the brand names you see on the shelf.”

The effort started in Milwaukee in 2011, but the organization soon shifted to a statewide approach. Jurewicz said that’s helped attract companies such as Gourmet Foods International, which said in January it’s opening a distribution center in Kenosha.

FaB Wisconsin members include companies such as Campbell Soup, General Mills, MillerCoors and Sargento Foods, as well as companies in packaging and waste disposal.

They also include the 10 companies in FaB Wisconsin’s accelerator, FaBcap, which will graduate its first class of companies in September.

Jurewicz said the group launched an accelerator because the demands on entrepreneurs is different than in the tech world.

It might be easy to find a shared kitchen or work with a farmers market for the proof of concept stage, she said. But actually growing the business is “a whole other ballgame,” requiring significant spending on capital and complying with food regulations such as the new Food Safety Modernization Act. Read more …

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