Media Archives

Media Archives

Oceana's Herald-Journal

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Starting Block to celebrate 10 years of entrepreneurial creativity


The Starting Block Kitchen Incubator, 1535 Industrial Park Dr., in Hart will celebrate its 10th anniversary with an open house Friday, Oct. 21 from 4-6 p.m.


Everyone is welcome to attend the open house according to Jane Dosemagen of the Starting Block. During the open house tours of the facilities will be given and samples of the foods created at the Starting Block will be made available. Starting Block made goods will also be available for purchase.


According to Dosemagen the Starting Block has assisted over 90 new businesses in starting up, getting licensed and making their food products for sale.


Twenty-six of these food businesses have ‘graduate’ to their own licensed kitchens or use a co-packer who makes their product, while they continue to market it.


Products created at the Starting Block range from granola to salsa and popcorn. Pie and pickles have been made by the entrepreneurs who have gotten their start at the Starting Block Kitchen Business Incubator.


Among the many unique products created at the incubator is Lucky Beach Stout Mix, a beer flavoring, and Prayani, and Indian Savory Yogurt.


Lucky Beach Stout Mix is added to a glass of beer to give it a different taste. Flavorings include peanut butter, butterscotch, pumpkin and many more.


Prayani, is used as a dip, dressing, sauce or condiment and is available in a range of flavors including tomato or carrot with Cumin and coriander, and cucumber with mint and cilantro.


Since 2006, The Starting Block has served as West Michigan’s non-profit regional kitchen incubator and entrepreneurial center. As a shared-use facility, the Starting Block helps entrepreneurs start their food-related businesses at reasonable rentals without the initial investment in costly facilities and equipment. The Starting Block offers low-cost kitchen rental, refrigerated, frozen and dry storage, warehouse space and office rental for those looking to start food-related businesses. From product development to marketing and outreach, the Starting Block provides the assistance and support to help you achieve business dreams.


The Starting Block offers a fully-equipped licensed, commercial kitchen as well as two additional commercial, licensed kitchens for specialty and small-scale production and a USDA-inspected meat processing facility. This is the first USDA-inspected meat processing incubator facility in the state and one of only a few in the country. Certified staff in food handling and equipment operation are available for assistance and training. The Starting Block kitchens and meat facility are available for use 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


For more information, call 231-873-1432 or email The Starting Block is located across from Hansen Foods – follow Industrial Park Drive to the first building on the left.

Oceana's Herald-Journal

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Starting Block looks to expand with meat kitchen by John Cavanagh


With a United States Department of Agriculture license for developing meat-based products, the Starting Block kitchen incubator plans to construct a separate building for further development at its facility in the Hart Industrial Park in Hart.


The Starting Block has submitted its zoning application to the City of Hart for the proposed 32-by-40-foot building to be built off the south face of the building near the parking lot.


Starting Block Director Ron Steiner said the facility is one of the very few kitchen incubators to be licensed for developing meat products. Currently, if a client wants to work on meat product development, the entire kitchen area must be washed down to accomodate it. The Starting Block was awarded half of a $500,000 Michigan Economic Development Grant for the meat kitchen last winter in conjuction with The Stream business incubator based in Newaygo County, Steiner said. He estimates the new meat product development building will cost approximately $125,000 to construct and another $20,000-$25,000 will be spent on equipment.


"From a food safety standpoint, that's the way to do it (have a separate building)," Steiner said. "We're ready to break ground soon as we get zoning approval. We're anticipating some real demand here from all over the place for meat products."

Some meat product development to come out of the Starting Block includes West African Cabobs which has since moved onto its own facility in Grand Rapids and Suzie Q Pasties. Another client has worked on beef pasta shells. The Starting Block also has a client developing a chili product, Steiner said.

"We don't have that many yet," he said.


The goal is to have the new building completed by late September or early October. Mike Blackmer of Hart will be the primary contractor.

Oceana's Herald-Journal

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Giving 'em the business by Mary Beth Crain


Situated in the Hart Industrial Park off of Polk Road is an operation that's officially known as a kitchen incubator. But to those who have taken advantage of its offerings, it's more of a dream factory.


The Starting Block, "West Michigan's non-profit regional kitchen incubator and entrepreneurial center," is a place where budding entrepreneurs come to get help in everything from product development and ingredient sourcing to marketing strategies, licensing, office rental and anything else a food startup needs to, well, get cooking.

Download the first page of the full-text article in Adobe pdf here

Download the second page of the full-text article in Adobe pdf here

Michigan Country Lines

January 2012, Vol. 32, No. 2

Keepin' It Real by Gail Knudtson


Busy as a bee, Simone Scarpace has been making jam with hand-picked Michigan fruit for over 30 years and decided to put it to market in 2008.

“Wee do have fun with the business,” she says of their family enterprise in Bear Lake called Wee Bee Jammin’. “Wee have passion for what we do,” she quips. Simone and her husband Ken enjoy traveling while making jam deliveries to their customers throughout the state, including annual trips to the U.P to pick thimbleberries, blueberries and other wild varieties that grace Michigan’s northern woods.


“Wee enjoy the people connection,” she explains about why they hand-deliver about 80 percent of their jams. “We have met a lot of great people throughout our ‘jam journey,’ believing that we are delivering the best jam there is on the market.”

From the idea to licensing, finding a kitchen, and inspection, getting our business started took about a year, Simone explains. In December 2011 they moved into their own production facility, where they will soon add a small storefront that carries their jam, along with honey and other Michigan foods, such as chocolate covered cherries, and jewelry, pottery, cards and artwork.

“We make all of our products,” Simone says, and all their jams are handcrafted in small batches. When they needed a mild honey for use in one of their jam recipes, daughter Sarah studied to be a beekeeper and created a spin-off company from Wee Bee Jammin’ so they could have their own supplier. Another daughter, Stefanie, a chef, helps make their products, and son K.J. helps with everything from picking berries to loading products.

By using only Michigan fruit in their low-sugar recipes, Simone says consumers are getting a high-quality jam made with pure, simple ingredients. The jams have catchy names like “Blueberry Bog” and “Saskatoon,” but their hands-down bestseller is called “Toe Jam,” which is made with strawberries, cherries and chunks of apples and peaches that remind them of big toes.

Deliveries are made to over 70 Michigan retailers, and cities such as Atlanta, Chicago and New York City. They have an internet store at and

The Scarpaces also buy fruit from Michigan farmers, including raspberries from Erwin’s Orchards (South Lyon), and saskatoons and blackberries from Putney Farms (Benzonia).

Saskatoons are new to Michigan, and Simone believes Wee Bee Jammin’ is the first Midwestern company to make saskatoon jam. “We have worked closely with those responsible for bringing this superfruit to Michigan,” she adds. “They are high in fiber and antioxidants and are grown on specialty farms in northern Michigan.”

“Wee take pride in what we do, and listen to our customers. It’s hard work, but it’s worth every minute,” Simone adds. “What wee need is more time. Wee are Beesy!”


December 1, 2011

Program Helps Entrepreneurs Defy the Statistics: Entrepreneurial training program comes to Hart, MI


Despite passion, drive and an abundance of good ideas, half of all new businesses fail within the first few years. Often that's because, despite their zeal, entrepreneurs lack the experience and tools required to effectively start and grow businesses.


Entrepreneurs in Oceana County now have a secret weeapon that increases their chances for success: FastTrac®, a comprehensive family of programs that help entrepreneurs hone the skills they need to create, manage and grow successful businesses.


The Starting Block, Inc., a regional business incubator, dedicated to helping entrepreneurs get products to the marketplace, introduced FastTrac® to the local market over the past year.


FastTrac® programs connect entrepreneurs to the best resources available to help them pursue and realize their entrepreneurial dreams. The programs provide business owners with insights, strategic visioning guidance, professional networking connections and other resources, to prepate them to create new businesses or expand existing enterprises.


"All entrepreneurs are passionate about ensuring the success of their endeavors, so they are hungry for the kind of training and mentoring that FastTrac® programs offer," said Starting Block Executive Director, Ron Steiner. "In our work to help entrepreneurs commercialize their products, we knew this program would provide the educational component we needed to help business owners improve their chances for success."


A typical FastTrac® session includes facilitated discussions and activities, networking, small peer groups, a guest speaker and one-on-one coaching. Participants work on their own business ventures throughout the program. FastTrac® programs are licensed from Kauffman FastTrac®, which offers programs across the globe for existing and aspiring entrepreneurs, as well as an entrepreneurship curriculum for college students.


Kauffman FastTrac® is an affiliate of the Kansas City-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the largest foundation in the work focused on ensuring entrepreneurial success at all levels.

Ludington Daily News

October 26, 2011

Incubating Passion: Hart's Starting Block Kitchen Incubator helps businesses test ideas by Jennifer Linn Hartley


Last Wednesday Dee and Mike Freestone, owners of Good Life Granola, won a Start Up to Watch award at the Making It In Michigan conference in Lansing. On Thursday they were back in Hart whipping up another batch of their award-winning granola.


The Freestones and Good Life Granola are based out of Holland but they use Hart's Starting Block Kitchen Incubator to produce their product.

The Starting Block had its fifth anniversary recently. It is a non-profit regional kitchen incubator and entrepreneurial center where small business owners can learn more about food production and what it takes to start a business.


The award they won recognizes an emerging or established Michigan State University Product Center customer who has demonstrated excellence, innovation and growth in the past five years.


Receiving the award was a surprise, Mike said, because there are a lot of companies out there making good products.

The Freestones began making Good Life Granola at the Starting Block about two years ago after Dee couldn't find granola that she liked in the store. She started making the granola on her own and giving it to friends and family.


"We knew we had a good product but we didn't have a place to make it," Mike said.

That's when they heard about the Starting Block.

"It's been very instrumental," Dee said.


The whole product is produced at the Starting Block. Thursday the Freestones made about 300 pounds of product. They started with about 150 pounds of oats, mixed it with other ingredients in a tumbler, baked it and packaged it.


"It's an awesome place," Mike said of the Starting Block. "If you can't make it, you can't sell it."


Now Good Life Granola is sold at various grocery and health food stores, including Meijer stores along the Lake Michigan shore.


Businesses that rent space at the Starting Block have access to equipment, storage space and other business necessities.


"It's difficult to buy your own equipment when you're trying to start your own business." Mike said.


Starting Block Director Ron Steiner said start-up businesses typically use the incubator for up to three years. Businesses are not kicked out of the incubator after that time, Steiner said, but it's usually enough time for the owners to decide whether an idea is going to work or not.


While the incubator is a licensed commercial food facility, individual businesses and clients must also be licensed by the Department of Agriculture.


Steiner said licensing requirements for individual clients include a test and a trial run with the Michigan Department of Agriculture food inspector present.


Five Years in the Making

The Starting Block was the first kitchen incubator in the state. Not only is it an incubator for new businesses, but it's an incubator for new ideas for an existing business.


"We incubate passion," Steiner said.


Sometimes a larger food processor will want to experiment with making a product before taking on the costs and effort to make it in their own location.


The Starting Block received a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grant when it began, which helped with the lease of the building and getting some equipment into it.


Currently the incubator has grown to having about 35 clients ranging from businesses just starting out to ones about ready to graduate and move on from the Starting Block.


"Nine out of 10 times it's the family story," Steiner said of the products produced at the Starting Block. Someone has a family recipe and decides to try to make a business of it.


"They never had a place to go unless they bite the bullet, get financing and buy their own equipment," he said.


Summer months are typically busier than winter months at the incubator because of the number of farmers markets products are sold at.


On site at the Starting Block are equipment for food processing and packaging, a walk-in freezer, dry goods storage and other storage areas. Offices are also available for rent and can include desks, chairs, wireless Internet and phone connections.


Clients come from as far as Grand Rapids and Lansing to use it.


"We want to be an entrepreneur center," Steiner said.


Classrooms, training, counseling and marketing ideas are also available through the incubator.

Michigan Business Incubator Association Bulletin

October 2011

Starting Block Successes


The Starting Block, Inc. (SBI) just celebrated their fifth anniversary as West Michigan's regional kitchen incubator and entrepreneurial center. SBI has assisted 59 new businesses in preparing for and receiving Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD) licenses to produce food products for sale in the marketplace.


Working with SBI, under the guidance of Michigan State University (MSU) Product Center, recipes have been produced, packaged and labeled for sale. Many new jobs have been created and businesses are growing with the help of the Starting Block. Every day there are phone calls from people who want to follow their dreams to become an entrepreneur and get "how to" information from the Starting Block.

Grand Rapids Press

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lomonaco Sicilian Cookies are becoming popular in West Michigan by Mary Radigan


Josie Lomonaco's mother would be pleased her daughter has put the family's Sicilian cookies out for public consumption. From sales in nine area retial stores to holidays and private affairs such as weddings, anniversaries, birthday parties and other events, the Lomonaco Sicilian Cookie Co.'s gourmet cookies are becoming popular in the area.


"This would warm her heart, and she would be so proud of the direction this has gone," said Lomonaco, as she and her husband, John Lomonaco, today were to expand the business further with the launch of a website,, where customers can buy a variety of cookies online.


Making the cookies was such a passion for the couple that, in January, Lomonaco, 57, retired from her office position with Orthopaedic Associates of Grand Rapids to focus full-time on the growing business. John Lomonaco, 56, an engineering manager for the furniture industry, does some baking on the side. "I grew up watching my mother bake for all the family functions and the cookies were always there," Josie Lomonaco said. "I loved them as a child and my dad always told her they tasted so good. I learned from her."


Several years ago, when the family celebrated the 50th wedding anniversary of her parents, Jim and Ida Scalabrino, at a local restaurant, she asked whether the cookies could be brought in as part of the meal, Lomonaco said. "The chef came out and tasted the cookies and said they were great," she recalled. "He asked us if we would make them for restaurant events, and my mother encouraged John and I to give it a try."


That small start was 10 years ago. In more recent years, they decided to start a true cookie-making business and named it Josie's Biscotti. But after getting some advice and design help from Palazzolo Design Studio in 2010, the husband and wife team decided the name did not truly reflect the taste or texture of their specialty cookie and recently repackaged and renamed the business. "Our cookies really are not a biscotti, which is drier and more like a biscuit," Josie Lomonaco said. "We use a special ingredient passed down from my grandmother and we needed a new name that fit the product."


Moist and tender like tiny cakes, the cookies bear names such as Spruzzi, Sesamo, Cucidati, Lustrato, Neopolitano and Pianura, with a variety of fillings or frostings. They can be found at Forest Hills Foods, G.B. Russo's and Sons, Horrocks Market, John Russo's Wine Warehouse & Deli, Grand River Grocery, The Company Bean coffee shop, Amore Trattoria Italiana restaurant, Sobie Meats and Villa Pizza.


As the business started to grow, so did the need to find a permanent place to make and bake the cookies. "We were renting commercial kitchens around the area, but wanted something better," said John Lomonaco. "The Michigan Agriculture Department told us about the Starting Block Kitchen in Hart." The Starting Block Kitchen is a business incubator dedicated to food industry start-up companies, which was a perfect fit for them. They drive an hour each way once a week from Grand Rapids, but it's worth the effort, he added. "We leave the space and they provide all the equipment, packing, freezing and storage space," Lomonaco said. "We couldn't afford to open our own kitchen when the economy started the downturn, so this has worked out great."


The couple said their sales volume doubled in 2010, something they never expected. They hope to see $75,000 to $100,000 in sales for 2011. "When you taste our product, it really sells itself because the flavor is so unique," Lomonaco said. "We hope to get into more specialty stores, and we're even thinking about testing them out in the farmer's markets.

Michigan State University

Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resources Studies
Jennifer Buckley, Dr. H. Christopher Peterson, Dr. Jim Bingen, 2011

The Starting Block: A Case Study of an Incubator Kitchen


Through this case, we explore the strategic challenges facing an incubator kitchen and its client businesses. An incubator kitchen is a business incubator that serves food business start-ups by providing a licensed kitchen. The case follows the incubator from its formative stages through its establishment and expansion. We explore tensions in this transition from concept to fuller-scale operation both for the incubator and its clients. We discuss strengths and weaknesses with reference to the incubator's entrepreneurial and networking culture, physical facilities, services and financing.


Download the full paper in Adobe pdf format

Grit Magazine

November/December 2010, Vol. 128, Issue 6, pp. 42-46

Shared Cooking Space Boosts Food Entrepreneurs by Karen Edwards


When Chris Chmiel leaves his farm in southern Ohio for the weekly drive to the farmer's market, he brings along blocks of his handmade goat cheese and jars of his pawpaw-spiceberry jam. In Michigan, Vicki Fuller, owner of Maple Island Pies, recruits family members to help sell her flaky treats at four different farmers' markets. And in Pennslyvania, Kathleen Montgomery totes a cooler filled with containers of her zesty fresh salsa to a farmers' market not far away.


Download the full article

Muskegon Chronicle

June 29, 2009

Service Puts Start-up Businesses on Fast Track

WEST MICHIGAN -- The regional service that helps potential entrepreneurs develop their start-up businesses is ready to crank out its graduates more quickly.

Armed with a new program partner and some outside funding, The Starting Block in Hart is offering new fast-track businesses launch program that is designed for area residents who have been laid off or are unemployed, those interested in entrepreneurships and business owners who want to retool their businesses. The program's goal is to help kick start the economy with an influx of businesses.

Ron Steiner, The Starting Block's director and a regional entrepreneurship educator, said the program is coming at an important time for West Michigan, a region that is dealing with many displaced workers from the economic downturn.

"That's why we have a sense of urgency to get this going," Steiner said.
The national program, called FastTrac LaunchPad, allows potential entrepreneurs to complete training and investigate their start-ups in three weeks, much shorter than the 10-week schedule traditionally offered. The intensive program covers a range of topics, including how to run a business, how to evaluate whether an idea has merit and how to finance the plan.

Steiner said the first class, ideally with 15 people, is tentatively scheduled to begin in the third week of July. Those interested in the program can send an e-mail to Steiner at Steiner said if the demand for the program allows, then additional three-week classes will be lined up.

The cost is $450, but Steiner is attempting to line up some assistance for qualified people through the two area Michigan Works! offices, the Muskegon/Oceana consortium and West Central, covering Newaygo, Mason, Lake, Osceola and Mecosta counties.

The Starting Block, 1535 Industrial Park Drive, is partnering with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City to bring the FastTrac program to West Michigan. Deluxe Corporation Foundation has provided $500,000 in a partnership with the Kauffman Foundation to spread the initiative across the country. The program is now being offered in all 50 states.

The program is open to all business ideas, not just food-based ideas. The Starting Block is known for the concepts that have come out of its kitchen incubators, leading to more than 100 specialty food ventures, but the officials there assist with all types of business start-ups.

  • FastTrac
  • The FastTrac program is designed to help potential entrepreneurs:
  • - Research and develop a business concept.
  • - Develop a working knowledge of business fundamentals, such as marketing, service, development and financials.
  • - Prepare a practical, realistic plan to launch a successful startup.
  • - Build a network of other entrepreneurs and community resources.

Michigan Farmer Magazine

January 2009

Go For It


HAVE you turned Aunt Ellen’s sensational salsa recipe into something spectacular? Or is it your famous barbecue sauce that’s on demand at every family function? Ever thought about trying to move your products from the home kitchen to retail or commercial markets? Ron Steiner, who is the director of The Starting Block in Hart, says it’s not as hard as you think. The Starting Block is a commercial “incubator” kitchen designed to test the ideas and dreams of individuals to see if their products are marketable on a larger scale. It allows entrepreneurs to advance, alter or abandon ideas with minimal investment.


Key Points

  • Commercial kitchen in Hart is available
    for testing new ag products.
  • The Starting Block helps entrepreneurs
    develop products and gain customers.
  • Proper support and education can help

Idea advancement

Steiner believes too many good ideas remain just that — ideas. Part of the problem, he says, is not understanding the differences between the myths and realities of entrepreneurship.

He questions the saying that four out of five businesses fail. “It’s more like one out of two, and it could be better odds with the proper support and education,” he says. The center is focused on advancing agricultural-based products and developing value-added products, largely made from Michigan’s array of raw commodities.

Another myth, Steiner says, is that money isn't’t available.

“I’m not going to say financing is easy, but if you have a good product and a plan, the money is there,” he says. One problem with financing, Steiner admits, is banks want to see a track record. “That’s a problem for a lot of people that are just getting their feet wet with commercial production. They are called ‘startup’ for a reason, but that’s why we’re here.

“The incubator kitchen helps to fill that gap giving them time and the equipment to develop a product without a lot of initial costs, while also allowing them to build customers, cash flow and the track record that banks are looking for.”

The accompanying article "Get Cookin" from the January 2009 Michigan Farmer Magazine can be downloaded in pdf format.

Download the Get Cookin article in Adobe pdf format

Country Lines Magazine

February 2008

"Incubator" Hatches New Businesses: The Starting Block helps turns passion into profession by Linda Kotzian


As the first commercial kitchen “incubator” in Michigan, The Starting Block provides licensed kitchen where its clients can produce, package, store and ship their products. It also offers the marketing and business know-how to successfully grow their businesses.


In the face of Michigan’s manufacturing job losses, Director Ron Steiner gets excited about the little incubator’potential for a positive impact on jobs. Most Starting Block clients have ties to agriculture and natural resources.“That,” Steiner asserts, “offers plenty of opportunity to build some really good Michigan businesses here that aren't’t going to leave the state.”

Current Starting Block clients include Vicki Fuller of Fremont, who owns Maple Island Pie Factory, LLC, and Lisa Dutcher of Hesperia, who owns Sassy Seasonings. Others produce or package products such as gluten free pastry mixes, imported virgin olive oil, candied nuts, cornbread stuffing, and cherry juice concentrate. Business owners, who often hold “day jobs” outside of their incubator ventures, have 24/7 access to the facility so they can produce their products at any time it suits them. Kitchen tenants rent facilities by the hour, and office tenants get high-speed internet and all utilities except long-distance phone for a $110 monthly fee.

Fuller considered running her pie business from home, but a visit to The Starting Block convinced her that licensing requirements make it easier just to use its commercial kitchen. Plus, she appreciates the business guidance that’s available.


“They told me just what to do—first step,second step,third step, fourth step—making it so much easier for me to get this endeavor started,” says Fuller.

“I love the partnership,” Dutcher adds. “Using The Starting Block has been a great experience for me.”

Getting Started & Growing

As a former director of the Oceana County Economic Development Corporation and a current regional entrepreneurship educator for MSU’s Ag Extension office, Steiner has along history of helping businesses bloom.


While working for MSU in 2003, he started the kitchen incubator in Hart and with state and federal funding, opened. The Starting Block in 2006. Keeping the doors open since has sometimes been a challenge, admits Steiner. He brought in Jim Henley and Jane Dosemagen to help him in 2005. The two have restaurant backgrounds and the same determination to make The Starting Block a major resource for the regional business and agricultural community. Dosemagen manages the orderly operations while Henley oversees sanitation, safety and process training. All three learned to operate on a shoestring budget with past business ventures and use that experience to help their clients.

“When you’re an entrepreneur,you do everything that needs to be done to make the business run,” says Dosemagen.

Not dwelling on job descriptions, the trio has installed flooring and equipment, painted walls, and scrounged for used equipment for the incubator. And, local businesses have willingly provided equipment free or at a very reasonable cost.

Steiner proudly shows a used forklift donated by Elston-Richards, Inc., of Grand Rapids, a candy-coating machine from Hart food processor Gray and Company, and desks from Dow Chemical. Other finds include equipment bought from a closed school and a $20,000 walk-in cooler acquired or $6,500 (assembly and installation, courtesy of volunteers). Such savings, Steiner says, allows current incubator grant funds to be used for rent and overhead expenses.

Donations have also helped fund educational programs. For example, Great Lakes Energy’s People Fund provided a $4,750 grant in 2007 for business classes for high school-age entrepreneurs to plant seeds for future business startups. The Starting Block also offers business and marketing classes to the general public, and Henley plans to develop training that will give kitchen and serving staff practical experience before a new restaurant opens.

Targeted, relatively short business courses and continued support from The Starting Block can launch people into their own businesses faster and more successfully than longer, more general classes offered through most colleges, claims Steiner.

“Once people realize what we’re trying to accomplish, it captures them,” Steiner reports, “and donations follow.” More federal grant dollars will become available when enough nonfederal matching funds are received.

Michigan Food and Farming Systems MIFFS

Bringing Farmers and Communitites Together November 2006, Vol. 12, No. 4

Michigan's First Kitchen Incubator is in Business


The Starting Block, Inc., Michigan’s first kitchen incubator, is open for business in Hart, Mich. The building houses a commercial, USDA certified kitchen designed for innovating and developing agriculture and natural resources products. Other businesses involved in food systems are also located in the incubator to help entrepreneurs get started.

“We’re incubating new entrepreneurs, or just as importantly, new ideas or new products for existing businesses,” said Ron Steiner, the Starting Block director.

For a small kitchen rental fee, anyone within a 90-mile radius of Hart can come in and test out their latest idea, from jams and jellies to herbal seasonings, from jerky to baked goods. A lot of people are interested and already knocking on the door, said Steiner. Twelve entrepreneurs are currently renting space in the commercial kitchen. The building has been open for office services for several months, and five businesses are now set up to help with product
startup and promotion.

The project has been a long time in the making but is finally up and running in full. Michigan Food & Farming Systems – MIFFS received a USDA Rural Development Rural Business Enterprise Grant and contributions from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation in 2003 to research and develop a kitchen incubator to help farmers turn their ideas into successes. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s been a labor of love,” said Steiner.

Download MIFFS Memo in Adobe pdf format

Muskegon Chronicle

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Starting Block 'incubator' gets boost of federal funds by Dave Alexander


The U.S. Economic Development Administration has supported the Starting Block regional kitchen incubator with a $210,000 grant to be used to help buy its Hart facility. The federal grant is part of a $460,000 project to buy the building in the Hart industrial park and fund equipment costs, according to a release from U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland. The EDA estimates the federal grant will help create $600,000 in private investment.


The city of Hart is applying for a grant through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to fund the remainder of the project. The city hopes to tap a new program supporting business incubators.


The commercial kitchen and business development center for an eight-county region from Manistee to Holland is designed to move food products from the idea stage to market.


It has been in operation for about a year.


"Purchasing the building will create a significant savings that will enable us to dedicate more funds to programming costs and less on bricks and mortar expenses," said Ron Steiner, director of the Starting Block. "It will enhance the services we provide to help startup companies succeed in West Michigan."


The Starting Block has access to the food industry, agriculture and business departments at Michigan State University . It also is looking to partner with Baker College of Muskegon, Muskegon Community College and West Shore Community College to provide business training for its users, Steiner said.

Those looking to break into the food processing industry can receive expert assistance in marketing, finance, food science and packaging, among other areas. Products can be developed, tested and produced in the kitchen, which is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


"The kitchen incubator and entrepreneurial center serves as a great facility in which to launch a niche business in West Michigan," Hoekstra said in a prepared statement. "The federal investment will help more small companies get off the ground and set them on a path toward success."


One example of an early user of the Starting Block kitchen and services is BaBa's HomeCooked Foods LLC -- a family business taking a southern recipe for cornbread stuffing and turning it into a product that is being sold through Meijer Inc.


Besides BaBa's, the Hart facility already is serving 17 clients that make, among other things, fruit pies, chutney, dry-seasoning mixes, candied nuts and high-end refrigerated pastries. It also has been working with New Era Canning and Country Dairy on new product research and development.


The commercial kitchen is running at about 40 percent of capacity, Steiner said. The concept is to get a product and company to a point of "graduating" to its own facility.

MSU Project Green

Summer 2007, Vol. 1, No. 3, pg. 6

Entrepreneurship is 'today's special' at Michigan's first kitchen incubator


The Starting Block combines elements of a traditional business incubator, such as low-cost office space and shared conference room facilities, with a state-licensed commercial kitchen and product storage facilities.

The idea for a kitchen incubator to support agricultural product innovation was hatched nearly five years ago. A group of representatives from the MIFFS received a USDA Rural Development Rural Business Enterprise Grant and funding from the MEDC in 2003 to conduct regional kitchen incubator feasibility studies. Steiner said the study showed that a kitchen incubator was viable in Manistee, Newaygo and Oceana counties. Then, the real work began.

Download the Summer 2007 Issue in Adobe pdf format

Press Release

September 2007

The Starting Block Receives $210,000 Federal Grant to Purchase Facility U.S. Department of Commerce Funds will also Cover Program Costs


WASHINGTON , D.C. – The Starting Block kitchen incubator and entrepreneurial center has received a $210,341 investment from the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) to help fund a $460,341 project to purchase the building in which it currently operates and fund programming costs.


“The kitchen incubator and entrepreneurial center serves as a great facility in which to launch niche businesses in West Michigan ,” said U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra , R-Holland. “The federal investment will help more small companies get off the ground and set them on a path toward success.”


The Starting Block West Michigan Regional Kitchen Incubator, located at 1535 Industrial Park Drive , serves an eight-county region that extends from Manistee to Holland . It fosters entrepreneurship in both agriculture product processing and the region’s food service industry.


The Starting Block’s commercial kitchen facility is available to producers and packagers of specialty and gourmet food, caterers, and church, school and civic groups. It provides a commercial test kitchen for start-up and existing food processors; low-cost office rent that includes computer, Internet access, phone and office support; and expert resources through Michigan State University’s business, food science and food packing schools, and the University of Michigan.


“Purchasing the building will create a significant savings that will enable us to dedicate more funds to programming costs and less on bricks and mortar expenses,” The Starting Block President Ronald Steiner said. “It will enhance the services we provide to help start-up companies succeed in West Michigan.”


The DOC Economic Development Administration (EDA) estimates that the project will create 150 jobs and leverage $600,000 in private investment.

The EDA serves as a venture capital resource to meet the economic development needs of distressed communities throughout the United States . Its mission is to lead the federal economic development agenda by promoting innovation and competitiveness, preparing American regions for growth and success.