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title:From Seedling to Startup to ...?
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From Seedling to Startup to ...?

by Evie Maxwell, Staff Writer

When the pandemic killed their plans for a commercial kitchen designed to serve caterers, Wendy and Brent Davis made a successful pivot to a commercial kitchen serving would-be food startups.

Let’s say you have a great idea, and you want to get it going. Or you had a great idea and then the pandemic sucked the air out of it. Or maybe you’ve seen some great ideas and you want to make sure more people can be included.

Welcome to the world of startups. It’s a risky business, but here in Jefferson County we have a wide variety of organizations, businesses, and even whole government departments ready to help you get started. What follows is a quick look at three groups involved in the business of helping people launch their own enterprises. This is by no means all-inclusive, but it does offer a sampling of the kinds of launch pads currently available.

Let’s start with the third example. You’ve seen something great, but you know there are some serious hurdles involved for many people who want to get started. Such was the case when Jefferson County Farmers’ Markets (jcfmarkets.org) manager/director Amanda Milholland watched a new entrant try—and fail —at the Port Townsend Market.

“This person came to the market with a really good idea, but she didn’t have the supplies she needed,” Milholland says. “Her tent broke because she purchased a less expensive model, her home- made signs didn’t stand up to weather, and her kitchen equipment kept breaking.”

The experience of this woman, a member of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) community, helped spur Milholland to start something new. She’d already been thinking about the need to make the market more inclusive, plus she’d spoken to her colleagues at the Tacoma Farmers’ Market, which already had a policy of waving some vendor fees for new BIPOC-owned market businesses. After checking with the vendor with a great idea but limited resources, Milholland developed a plan inspired by the Tacoma model to eliminate some of the barriers experienced by new BIPOC business owners. Thus was born the Jefferson County Farmers Market BIPOC Start-Up Business Fund (link), which offers grants of $500 to $1,500 to help new BIPOC busi- ness owners get started at the farmers market.

“The money’s not enough to cover all the expenses,” Milholland notes. But it’s a big leg up. And it can be the launch pad to a whole new business. Of last year’s crop of BIPOC vendors, one, the Port Townsend Peddler, has gone on to run its own thriving business. This year, the folks from one of the newer restaurants in town, La Cocina, are taking advantage of the program and, judging from traffic at their booth (to say nothing of their delicious blue corn tortillas), they’re doing well.

From blue corn tortillas we switch to a problem of sour lemons, which is what Wendy Davis and her husband, Brent Davis, got with their dream for starting a new enterprise called Lila’s Kitchen (link). Through 2019, the duo worked to set up a brand-new commercial kitchen designed for caterers who are legally required to work out of licensed kitchens. By early 2020 they were ready to start the business.

Then the pandemic erupted. The caterers vanished. Such might have been the fate of Lila’s Kitchen, except, says Davis, “We decided to pivot.”

Re-imaging their business, they opened Lila’s Kitchen as a service for food vendors who could rent the kitchen and offer their wares via windows set up for just that purpose. In its first year in business, Lila’s Kitchen had two vendors. One of the two is now established in its own brick-and-mortar enterprise, Mo-Chilli’s BBQ.

This year, Lila’s kitchen is hosting three vendors: Zack’s Old-Fashioned Doughnuts; Friendly Nettle, featuring flavors from around the world; and Batch Brothers, with a menu featuring a variety of homemade sauces served on burgers, tacos, chicken wings and more. As for Lila’s Kitchen, it’s been successful enough to launch yet another culinary effort via a Mobile Bar Car designed to serve private parties. Last, but definitely not least, we have Jefferson County’s entry into the entrepreneur-launch business. This is EDC Team Jefferson (edcteamjefferson.org), a state-designated associate development organization providing economic development services, including consultation and technical assistance services to all kinds of businesses, whether existing, relocating or still just a gleam in the eye.

This group also provides access to a wide variety of business, technical and financial classes ranging from a simple startup course designed to help “wannabe entrepreneurs” determine whether their goals are realistic, to increasingly sophisticated classes on subjects such as cybersecurity, data analysis, using social media and more. Many of these classes are free; those that charge tend to be in the low hundreds. Some are offered in-person, and some are offered online through partner relationships.

Perhaps even more important, the EDC Team Jefferson is culti- vating a team of volunteer professionals, including business owners, retired executives, entrepreneurs, and community leaders. With this, plus its connections to regional and state networks of business advisors, EDC Team Jefferson can help match businesses to a helpful resource to answer most any question.

On the dollars and cents side of business, the EDC group is established with local sources for raising money, including the well-regarded Jefferson County LION, or Local Investing Opportunities Network (jeffersonlion.net). LION investors are local business leaders who are willing to invest their own funds to help local businesses grow, and their website actively encourages people to submit their business opportunities for review.

Says Cindy Brooks, director of the EDC Team Jefferson, “A big difficulty for small businesses is not knowing where to go (for advice and investment) for your industry and business stage of growth. We are becoming a clearing house connecting our community to these services,” including an extensive network of confidential advisors for all sorts of business needs and problems.

So there’s a starter roundup; and, we hope, a lot of opportunity.



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