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Food entrepreneurs go from recipes to revenues at ENGAGE workshop

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Photo by Emy Lynn Roque Cisneros The state of the food industry has changed, said Mark Retzloff, but the people's visions have remained the same.

June 21 kicked off a workshop for food entrepreneurs titled "From Recipe to Revenues." Over 40 people gathered at Memorial Hall in Hotchkiss in hopes to learn from experts in the food industry from across Colorado.

The workshops mostly consisted of presentations from field experts, with plenty of time for questioning and answers.

Thursday's schedule started with a 12:30 p.m. meet and greet pizza lunch followed by welcoming remarks from the organizers -- ENGAGE Delta, Startup Colorado, Naturally Boulder and OEDIT. Shawn Gardner, the director of economic initiatives with ENGAGE, shared how they started with the mission to help boost and diversify the economy within Delta County through entrepreneurship.

This workshop is one of many initiatives, which are mostly funded through a federal grant and various partners. "We're working to create and leverage the resources and relationships needed for entrepreneurship and innovation to thrive in Delta County," said Gardner.

This workshop was spread out over two half-days due to many of the presenters having to travel from the Denver area.

"Everything fell together for these mentors to come out here and share their knowledge so we took advantage of it," said Barry Pennell, ENGAGE agriculture coordinator. "It's hard to find an ideal time for everyone, but we got a great turnout."

Pennell told the audience it's part of ENGAGE's mission to connect farmers with people wanting to start value-added and foodcentric business. He highlighted the large community kitchen in Paonia which is available free for entrepreneur use, along with several other smaller commercial kitchens available throughout Delta County.

"We really want to help alleviate that higher risk of equipment investment when starting a business and create a leaner startup model for people," he said. Some of the commercial equipment was available for viewing at the workshop.

Following the overview of the day from Bill Capsalis with Naturally Boulder, Mark Retzloff from New Hope gave a presentation on the state of the food industry. He started in 1969 with the desire to create healthy accessible food. Since then the industry has revolutionized completely. He said, "The one thing that's stayed the same is that people have vision, dream and purpose."

He encouraged the audience by sharing his goals and keys to success. Cell phones snapped photos of slides illustrating what characteristics to look for when building a team.

Jeni Lam Rogers Daniels, an attorney from Faegre Baker Daniels, then gave a presentation on the legalities with food entrepreneurship such as FISMA and labeling. Her expertise was evident in her responses to the many questions asked by participants.

"You can be doing everything by the books and still be sued," she warned. She emphasized the importance of food safety and following proper steps to stay within FDA guidelines.

The Thursday afternoon session continued with another presentation from Dale Kamibayashi with Presence Marketing on working with brokers, retailers and distributors. Afterwards a highly anticipated roundtable discussion consisted of 10-minute rotations with the various guests from the Front Range.

The group finished the evening with a 5:30 p.m. cocktail reception and dinner at Shadescapes where attendees got to meet other fellow food entrepreneurs both beginner and experienced.

Friday's workshop started with branding expert Kristine Carey instructing how to build a food brand and market products.

Next, local experts from firms such as Big B's Cider, Ela Family Farms and Farm Runners were featured in a panel discussion.

Hotchkiss local William Benjamin came to the workshop in hopes of gaining guidance on his entrepreneurship journey. "I'm here to take notes and see what I can apply towards my business," he said.

Benjamin returned to his hometown after reading that Colorado is best for food retail, and chose Delta County because of its abundant organic agriculture. "I'm definitely learning a lot," he said.

To conclude the presentations Julie Nirvelli shared lessons learned from her entrepreneurship journey, using her business, White Girl Salsa, as a startup case study. Capsalis wrapped up with a final question and answer session before dismissing the crowd.

This workshop was free for attendees with food and refreshments provided from local restaurants and entrepreneurs such as Woodfire Pizza, Citizen Raw!, Big B's Juice and Mountain Oven.

The next ENGAGE event will be in September with an energy conference in Paonia during September. More details can be found online at engagedeltacounty.org.

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