Becoming an Entrepreneur

Are you interested in starting or expanding a business that will improve access to healthy foods in low-income communities? If you are ready to take on the responsibility of entrepreneurship, this section offers guidance on making the case for your business idea. An important step to launching any business is making sure that your idea or business concept fulfills a need in the community and the demand of the market. To determine if your business is offering what the market wants and needs, do some research and create a business plan.

Market Research

Markets are dynamic. With customers, competitors, and market conditions continually changing, market research can provide you with a clear sense of your business opportunity, target market and competition.  In addition, investors and lenders may require independent market assessments or studies as part of the analysis to verify your business concept and plans.

This website also can serve as an invaluable source of information for your market research:

  • In Healthy Food Access 101 and in Business Models you will find information that you can use to inform your market research business strategy on supermarkets and convenience stores, food cooperatives and community-supported agriculture, farmers markets and mobile markets, and food hubs that.
  • Research Your Community is a tool designed to help understand healthy food retail access in specific geographic locations. This interactive mapping and reporting tool provides 60 data indicators that can help the user understand a community’s food environment. The broad categories of data included are described below:
    • Demographics: Includes data on race and ethnicity, income, poverty, recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps), and rates of unemployment.
    • Food Environment: Includes data on grocery retail demand and leakage, farmers markets, and the degree of access to healthy food retail outlets such as USDA’s Low Income, Low Access designated census tracts and Reinvestment Fund’s Limited Supermarket Access areas.
    • Health: Includes data on fruit and vegetable consumption, obesity, physical inactivity, and diabetes.
    • Federal Programs and Investments: Includes eligibility data for various federal funding programs such as New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) and Community Development Block Grants (CDBG).

You can also use market research to counter misconceptions about the financial viability of serving low-income households and communities of color.  For example, data on grocery retail demand and leakage or utilization rates for the SNAP and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) programs can demonstrate the purchasing power of low-income households and persons of color.

Knowing your customer will also contribute to your chances for establishing a successful business. Both quantitative data on community demographics (income, race, and ethnicity) and qualitative on-the-ground research can be vital to understanding your customer base. Surveys, focus groups and conversations with potential funders, food policy councils, and food access organizations can help you explore the need or demand for your product or service and make sure that your business offerings are culturally appropriate and desired.

Business Planning

Business plans perform several functions. The business planning process can help ground your idea, clarify your business concept, and create a roadmap for implementing the idea. It can also help you to convey your idea to potential investors and lenders; determine the amount and type of financing you need to launch or expand the business and sustain it over time; determine the appropriate legal and organizational structure (for-profit, non-profit, cooperative); identify potential problems; and help manage your company.

Though business plans differ widely based on factors such as content and services, three primary components are consistent across business plans:

  • Business concept: Discusses the industry, your business goals, business structure, your product or service, and how you plan to make your business a success.
  • Marketplace analysis: Describes and analyzes potential customers, including who and where they are and what makes them buy. Marketplace analyses can also describe the competition and how the business will position itself to compete.
  • Financial projections: Contains your income and cash flow statement, balance sheet and other financial ratios, such as break-even analyses. This part may require help from an accountant or software program.

See Resources for the Entrepreneur below for additional information. 

Resources for the Entrepreneur

Across the country, nearly 1,000 Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) help entrepreneurs think through their ideas and develop and implement business plans. SBDCs are hosted by leading universities and state economic development agencies, and are funded in part through a partnership with the Small Business Administration. SBDCs offer small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs no- and low-cost consulting services and training on a variety of business topics. Visit America’s SBDC website to locate a small business center near you.

Business accelerators and incubators (increasingly, the terms “accelerator” and “incubator” are used interchangeably) are another great way to grow your businesses. Generally, accelerators are designed to speed-up the growth of an existing company, while incubators cultivate ideas with the hope of building out a business model and company. Some accelerators and incubators are affiliated with venture capital firms and provide seed capital to invest in your business in exchange for an equity position. The selection process for both can be highly competitive.

The 2016 statistics from the International Business Innovation Association (InBIA) identified about 7,000 business incubators and accelerators worldwide, with more than 90 percent being non-profit and focused on programs for community economic development. The past few years have seen a marked increase in the number of business accelerators and incubators that provide support to help food entrepreneurs who serve low-income communities develop their ideas and start and expand their businesses. Examples include The Enterprise Center, Bodega Bootcamp, Propeller, and FS6 (Food System 6).

Check out the following websites and publications for additional information on launching a business.

Small Business Administration:

Entrepreneur: 

Reinvestment Fund:

  • PolicyMap: Easy-to-use online mapping with data on demographics, real estate, health, jobs and more in communities across the US.
  • Understanding the Grocery Industry: Provides basic understanding of the U.S. grocery industry including major participants, industry financials, current operating trends, and industry trends.

Healthy Food Access Portal 

  • Research Your Community: A featured tool of the Portal, this nteractive map helps you understand and describe the communities in which you are working to improve access to healthy foods.
  • Marketing Basics: In-depth tutorials covering Marketing Basics and Marketing Research.
  • Food Hub Business Assessment Toolkit: This tool by Wholesome Wave provides users with the tools to evaluate a food hub business’ readiness for investment.