The Food Corridor, Ashley Colpaart's food-tech startup, is also the topic of her dissertation at Colorado State University, but to suggest it's only an intellectual exercise would miss the point entirely.
"I've worked in the food realm all my life," she told me as she was boarding a plane to San Francisco to present at the BonAppetech conference, "from working at the farmers markets with my parents to getting a master's degree in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition [from Tufts University] and working in all areas of food production and distribution. I'm passionate about regionalizing food systems, in researching food hubs and innovative distribution systems." Colpaart's also a registered dietician and was instrumental in the development of the Northern Colorado Food Cluster.
Colpaart's The Food Corridor leverages technology to impact local and regional food production by connecting food businesses in need of kitchen space with commercial kitchens licensed by local health agencies. The Food Corridor will provide online booking, payment processing, disbursement, and reviews.
It's also a near-perfectly timed concept that's quickly becoming the darling of the booming food-tech industry. Colpaart was the FoodTech Pitch Winner at Boulder's 33Entrepreneurs contest in July, and won Galvanize Fort Collins' Pitches and Pitchers in September. Colpaart finished in the "top third" in San Francisco, on a national stage. The startup is in a pre-seed funding stage.
Demand for kitchen space is off the charts. Co-packers -- food manufacturers that provide the service for emerging brands -- are slammed. And a tsunami of food makers -- food truck operators, chefs, caterers, farmers, and ranchers, new brands -- has exploded on the food and ag scene.
Turns out that school districts, commissaries, churches, restaurants, and hotels, among others, have great facilities that are underutilized.
Voilà! The Food Corridor.
Colpaart is currently focused on northern Colorado, though her eyes are fixed firmly on Denver and beyond. (The website says The Food Corridor is 'currently piloting in Colorado.') The idea is already blossoming. Proof-of-concept is coming easy. "Weld County School District's facilities are under-utilized," Colpaart says, "and school districts are generally strapped for cash. We're filling a industry need and providing a new revenue source at the same time."
The synergy with Colorado's transformative sector of co-packers, like Fresca Foods and Natural Food Works, is also a selling point. "We're helping co-packers ensure that food companies are a reality, that they're ready for the next step," Colpaart says. It's no small issue. Fresca Foods CEO Todd Dutkin has told me the company receives 500 applications a year from emerging brands.
Colpaart describes it as the 'access' economy and for her it's an apt description. She's in the vanguard of wave of young, smart entrepreneurs who envision changing the way food is produced and distributed, or as she says "reimaging food systems and providing people new opportunities to connect with food." It's a wholly progressive and modern ethos that's been percolating under the rubric of the 'localvore' movement. It's a trend that's exploding, driven by technology and sustaining factors that are feeding the growth of local manufacturing.
The epicenter for innovation in Colorado is Boulder, Weld, and Larimer counties, a growing food-tech community that boasts an empowering combination of agricultural assets, business incubation and companies transforming entire market sectors -- like New Belgium and Odell, Noosa, and Madhava -- all paving the way and serving as a model for young, motivated talent.
Like Ashley Colpaart and the community of progressive entrepreneurs establishing Colorado as ground zero for a new American food industry. Tomorrow's 11th annual Naturally Boulder Pitch Slam & Party, a daylong celebration and contest to determine the best of the next crop of food manufacturers, further showcases the market. We'll report on the event next week.
Bart Taylor is founder and publisher of CompanyWeek. Reach Bart at firstname.lastname@example.org.