‘Can-Do’ is about to do a lot more for Kalamazoo entrepreneurs

The food industry start-up incubator Can-Do Kitchen is changing its name, moving to a bigger facility, and expanding its scope to help all entrepreneurs in Kalamazoo.

Can-Do Kitchen, the 13-year-old helping hand for local food entrepreneurs, is expanding its business incubator to, well, pretty much every other industry.

It’s also changing its name to Can-Do Kalamazoo and quadrupling its commercial kitchen in a new location, where it will also host a co-working space, offices for tenants, classrooms, and events.

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“You have an existing business and want to grow, we can help with that,” Founder and Executive Director Lucy Dilley said in bare-walled meeting room in their current Lake Street location. 

The major changes, announced Thursday, come after the organization raised more than three-quarters of its $650,000 capital campaign led by Judy Sarkozy, owner of Sarkozy Bakery; Andrea Augustine, senior real estate manager at Adams Outdoor Advertising; and Tim Harding, general manager of eight local Harding’s stores.

Having helped hundreds of people already, Can-Do Kalamazoo will essentially become a one-stop for any entrepreneur – with a deliberate focus on entrepreneurs that have faced more roadblocks or have started along their entrepreneurial path further back than others.

two men chat in a kitchen
Dale Van Patten of Van’s Gourmet Pretzels talks with the state licensing inspector in the Can-Do Kitchen. Photo courtesy of Can-Do Kitchen

“We know that because of a lot of barriers that exist – based on gender, racism, educational, or economic – that prevents people from having opportunities and choices available to start a successful business,” said Dilley. Can-Do Kalamazoo wants to “remove them, to the extent we can, since many are systemic.”

“We have a diverse team of people that can wrap our arms around entrepreneurs” and be the main point of contact throughout their processes as startups and in future stages of business.

The non-profit Can-Do Kitchen has slowly been expanding to be everything to everyone.

Four months ago, it doubled down on a crucial element missing for many would-be entrepreneurs: Seed funding.

Inspired by their successful grant-based scholarship fund program, they launched Can-Do Loans, along with LISC Kalamazoo and Michigan Women Forward, providing between $1,000 and $3,000 in microloans.

“It gives them working capital to start the first steps of their business. The ability to start something is huge,” Dilley said, because a bit of money behind an idea spurs confidence and opens doors. “It’s another piece of the financial support we provide.”

Three loans have closed since the program started. A dedicated staffer helps entrepreneurs navigate that process and helps identify other funding opportunities as well.

Noreen Garrido putting empanadas on a plate
Noreen Garrido of Kalamazoo Latino Specialties puts her empanadas on a platter. Photo courtesy of Can-Do Kitchen

Can-Do Kitchen began in 2008 in a trailer at the county fairgrounds, then moved to the First Baptist Church – which has itself turned into an incubator, for non-profits – followed by the kitchen at the People’s Food Co-op, and now on Lake Street just west of Sprinkle Road.  

“We have grown pretty incrementally and this next one is much bigger,” Dilley said.

The capital campaign had already begun and the new location was already chosen when a City of Kalamazoo-funded feasibility study on how to service the needs of start-ups determined a “mixed-use incubator” was a priority. 

“While African Americans make up almost 30% of the city’s population, they own only 20% of the city’s businesses — and 97% of those businesses are so small that they don’t employ anyone, versus the national average of 80%,” according to the executive summary of the study’s 2019 implementation plan.

A sub-committee of the Greater Kalamazoo Business Resource Network began looking for ways to turn that study into action. The Can-Do Kitchen, a member of the network, was chosen as the lead entity under which these needs could best be met.

Dilley said they were already exploring options for the next phase of the Can-Do Kitchen because it was “bursting at the seams” with area entrepreneurs making coffee, bean dips, pastas, snacks, drinks, and more. 

Now, they’ll go from one cooking space and two prep spaces to three cooking spaces and six prep spaces and more at 519 South Park St. in between Kalamazoo’s Vine and Downtown neighborhoods. 

Dilley said industries identified to serve include:

  • Retail
  • Construction and sub-contracting trades
  • Health and wellness products
  • Landscaping
  • Technology services
  • Arts
  • Printing

“Plus whatever else our community’s entrepreneurs dream up,” Dilley said.

Can-Do Kalamazoo will move into its new location in mid-2022.

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