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From food innovation to food success

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Jack Kuo hands out samples of Serious Cheesy PUffs from Fuller Foods at the OSU Food Innovation Centers showcase.  Above, an attendee grabs a sample of Humdinger Kettle Corn (left) and Connie Rawlings-Dritsas (right) hands out samples of drinking vinegar from Blossom Vinegars.For aspiring food entrepreneurs, getting your product in front of the right people can mean success or failure for your business.

Simply having a great product doesn’t ensure profitability. To help bridge this gap between product creation and market success, Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center hosted the Time to Market Trade Show on the evening of June 24, in Portland. Entrepreneurs handed out organic or allergen-free food samples to investors and buyers from booths set up on the outdoor patio.

The food entrepreneurs are alumni of the Getting Your Recipe to Market (GYRM) program, sponsored by Portland Community College’s Small Business Development Center, the Department of Food Science and Technology, and New Seasons Market.

GYRM started in 2007 and has more than 200 entrepreneur alumni from PCC’s Continuous Learning for Individuals, Management and Business center program.

The trade show is the new alumni’s first chance to build their professional network with local buyers and vendors, according to Sarah Masoni, the Food Innovation Center’s product development manager. The Food Innovation Center is a collaboration between OSU and the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

“This event is a perfect way for us to reach out to businesses we’ve helped over the years and treat the taste buds of Oregon,” says Masoni.

Alumni, including Beautiful Tomato, were tabling at the event. Creator Patty Newth makes tomato jam — it’s an Italian sauce that is both sweet and spicy. The GYRM class was valuable to her because of the networking opportunities and business ideas.

“I learned marketing, the cost of goods, including everything,” says Newth. “Even things I didn’t know I don’t know, like labor, insurance and renting a kitchen.”

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - An attendee grabs a sample of Humdinger Kettle Corn.A few hours before the trade show officially begins, the vendors network with investors, distributors and local retailers. The food industry partners will be able to propel the entrepreneurs’ products into stores, restaurants, hospitals, colleges and large companies like Nike and Intel.

Ryan White and Brenda Scrivens, distributors for New Seasons, were looking for “anything new, anything cool,” according to White, the perishables and bulk manager.

“A lot we already have, already carry, but we may find new versions,” says White. Scrivens, the grocery category manager, was on the lookout for familiar faces; networking is a key component of the program.

Amerinda Alpern, creator of Raw Chia Chips, was born with a multitude of food allergies and calls her chips “insanely healthy.” She uses a dehydrator to create her entirely allergy-free product. The three brightly-colored flavors are paleo, organic, natural, and free from gluten, soy, corn and agave.

“I’m an artist by background,” says Amerinda, explaining how she came up with her colorful chips. “Food became the pallet.”

Investors including Scott Sanders, fund manager at Oregon Angel Fund, looked for promising food start-ups.

“I’m a foodie,” says Sanders, who attended last Tuesday’s showcase. “Food companies are challenging because they take a long time to mature, so I’m looking for companies that have that figured out already.”

The intensive 14-week GYRM program is more of a crash course than a class. In the past six years, about 40 percent of the students created successful food businesses and in this year’s spring class, all nine products have buyers.

“We hope (this program) saves time and money,” says Jill Beaman, a PCC facilitator at the Small Business Development Center. “We’re hopefully saving (the students) a lot of mistakes by partnering them.”

Beaman is one of four business adviser for the GYRM class, offering one-on-one advising for the rest of her students’ companies’ lives. Alumni are invited to sit in on any future classes so they can hear new guest speakers.

In the past, students have competed for one prize rather than holding a showcase for investors and vendors. Beaman believes that’s the reason this year’s class is so successful.

“They say, ‘I want to get my business and product right long term, instead of for the competition,” says Beaman.

Nicole Possert, a new GYRM alum and maker of Coley’s Goodys, learned everything including perfected her nut-based cookies, packaging and designing her own logo.

Her logo is a retro orange swirl inspired by the Portland street sign water symbol. The retro aspect reflects Possert’s grandmother, whose nickname for her is Coley.

Possert designed the logo to “harken the past, but be food-forward and modern.”

Each month this summer, the Food Innovation Center will host a showcase featuring alumni from the GYRM program.

Masoni, who is also a food products specialist with the OSU Extension Service, says, “We’d love to see our whole parking lot filled with booths of graduated students.”