Interview | The Food Loft from Boston

THE FOOD LOFT – interview

Co-working spaces are nothing new, but a dedicated space for foodpreneurs is a new concept.

When we discovered The Food Loft we just had to learn more about the business and the folks making food dreams come true.

The Food Loft Origin story

The Food Loft started four years ago when our founders began investing in food startups. Our CEO Adam came to really love helping food entrepreneurs and connecting with other people in food. As that became a larger part of the role, he got the idea to create a central place where food entrepreneurs could easily find and learn from each other (there were a lot of resources like this for tech in Boston, but not many for food start-ups.)

They converted our office into a coworking space and began telling companies about the space. I came in about a year ago to figure out how to turn the Loft into a community both for our members and other food companies around Boston. We have some great people here. I love coming to work with them every day. And we’ve developed a number of resources - like our workshops and mentor network - to continue that original mission of helping food entrepreneurs connect and grow their businesses.

What are the benefits of a co-working environment for start-ups?

There are so many. Operationally it’s a lot easier for companies. We handle internet, electric, supplies, repairs – all of the day-to-day needs of the space, so companies don’t have to hire an office manager or do this work themselves.

We’ve had people tell us that coworking environments really help with company culture. For smaller teams, it can be hard to feel a sense of culture. When you have companies all working out of the same space, it adds to your experience of coming to work. There are always people to talk to or grab a beer with. It’s a great opportunity to network professionally or personally.

This space also fosters creativity and better problem-solving. Anytime I’m working on something, I always benefit from bouncing ideas off of other people in the space. You get entirely new perspectives and new ideas on how to work through things by talking to the diverse group of people here. I know some other folks have enjoyed being able to tap neighbors for advice here, too.

How does a food startup get a space at The Food Loft?

Come to our next happy hour! We open these up to anyone interested in our space to come check it out. You can also email me if you’d like to set up a tour.

How does The Food Loft see the landscape of Food business changing in the next 5 years?

What a question… There’s a lot going on.

I’m excited about what’s happening within food products. Consumers are learning a lot about how ingredients in our food makes them feel, and are standing their ground on ingredients they don’t find acceptable. This is bringing more clean products to market – nut milks with fewer gums and binders, no sugar added snack bars. A lot of the earlier stage food product businesses we’re seeing are driven by a mission that involves simpler ingredients people recognize and feel good about eating and giving their families. I’m really excited about this movement and seeing it spreading to cosmetics and cleaning products, I’m confident it’s here to change things up in a big way.

Adam spends a lot of time learning about what's happening on the food tech side. I asked him what he thought:

CPG - While a lot of the recent developments in “innovation” deal with CPG brands acquiring upstarts, I think the future will shift to be more encompassing of two primary areas: 1) “unbranded” brands, like the experimentation that’s happening now with Brandless, as well as the very successful Kickstarter campaign for Public Goods. I think we’ll see more of this, especially as a way to push back against the encroachment of Big Food / CPG. As more of these direct to consumer channels take hold, it could also have an impact on the future of food retail, where we’re just at the tip of the iceberg.

Crowdfunding - I see the market for food funding, specifically for new food projects, increasing over time. PieShell is a great example of this, but we’ll see more. Crowdfooding recently launched overseas, and I believe we’ll start to see more unique funding arrangements than just rewards-based systems. This could include royalty- or equity-based crowdfunding that allows incentivized individuals to have a more meaningful role in supporting new food brands.

Food Startups (overall) - I believe we’ll see a contraction here and more of a considerate approach to launching new companies. There’s a lot of frivolousness out in the world right now, as well as many entrepreneurs whose only experience in food is that they eat it. The recent Blue Apron IPO is also going to give investors pause for thought. I can’t point to more than a handful meaningful exits in the foodtech space over the past few years and I think that’s also going to put further pressure on funding. I see that as a good thing…I believe we’re in the first or second phase of the innovation cycle for food, and the further along we get, the more impactful the innovation can become (I think).

How did you find your way to The Food Loft? What is your role and how does it impact the business?

I found my way here through a mentor of mine. I decided I wanted to work in the food space about two years ago and had been fortunate enough to intern at Flour Bakery in Boston part-time. A mentor connected me with Bruce and Adam, who were looking for a part-time community manager. I transitioned to full-time a few months later.

I am our full-time Food Loft team member here in Boston, so I’m your go to for everything from tours and booking space, to events, to your everyday workspace needs. My role is to make sure everyone here is happy and is getting connected with resources and people that will help them grow in the ways they want to. We want everyone to get the most out of their time here. I’m here to help them do that, and implement new things we don’t have that they would find helpful.

What is the company’s greatest success story? Any specific company making waves in the industry?

We can by no means claim the successes companies here have as our own. We are always rooting for them, but they’re the ones doing the work. We have a number of companies here doing great work in a lot of different areas of the food space. Just Add Cooking has a really great meal kit concept - they use all local ingredients in their boxes, which is great for local producers and allows them to use less packaging than boxes that ship across the country. The Moxie Agency helps local restaurateurs and bloggers get the word out about their businesses and run successful events. Culture Cheese Magazine continues to be the leading publication for people who love cheese. There’s a lot going on here - makes for some really interesting lunch talk!

If a new FoodPreneuer is reading this story, what advice would you give them in regards to achieving success?

If you’re passionate about something, like “ready to be uncomfortable to do it” kind of passionate, explore it. Make a list of questions then go figure out how you can connect to people doing what you want to do and learn from them. And when you’re ready to get started, reach out to the resources popping up for food ventures in Boston. There is more and more all the time that will help you through the stages of starting your business. We’re happy to help you navigate them and find the best fit.

What’s next for The Food Loft?

That’s really up to our members. We base almost everything we do on their needs and their feedback. Every workshop we do is one we’re asked for. Every office improvement is based on how companies here are growing and changing the way they work. Some of the things we’re currently working on are growing our existing community events. We’re working on incorporating lunch & learns into our monthly lunches and opening happy hours up to people outside of the Loft to allow for more networking. We’re always looking to grow our mentor network so it can serve more needs of food entrepreneurs. We’re also planning to test some new types of events come Fall.

Tell me about ‘Cookie Wednesday’

Ha! Cookie Wednesday was just something I tried out once last Fall. It’s a bit of a carry-over from my days at the bakery. People here love sweets – you can find donuts, candy, and pie here more often than not. So once a week around 2 pm I’ll bake cookies for everyone. It’s a nice break in the day and gets people out of their offices for a few minutes. It’s expected now. I get a lot of crap if I ever skip a week or am late getting them out 😉

 

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