7/11/17 – Colorado FoodWorks is a startup food venture led by four students in the GSSE MBA Program at CSU. Fran, Meghan, Hannah, and Charlie are focused on solving gender inequities through local food.
Start with a problem. This is the advice we heard over and over from our Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise professors, conferences, design-thinking competitions, and other start-up founders. If we want to make a social impact through business, we must know the problem we’re solving and the value we’re adding.
And so we began. Our team spent months conducting interviews and researching problems that arise from gender inequities. We researched various corners of the globe and interviewed men and women across socioeconomic statuses and political and ideological values. We discovered intriguing and common themes, especially regarding barriers to economic mobility for women and girls.
The world was our oyster. But then, we started taking a second look at our own backyard. The realization sunk in that so many of the same gendered problems exist here in the U.S. Digging in, we discovered that over 1 in 3 single mothers live in poverty right here in Colorado, and these women face numerous and significant barriers to accessing jobs that pay a living wage. Here in Larimer County, for a single mother with 2 young children, working a job that pays minimum wage, a woman needs to work 132 hours per week to be self-sufficient. That’s 27 hours per day for a 5-day work week. This is obviously not possible.
So, where does a business solution step in? As a team, we were drawn to local food, a growing industry predicted to continue rising. We were also inspired by transitional employment models across the nation that met basic income needs of underserved populations, while equipping them with long-term workforce skills.
We decided to start with pasta as our product to sustain our social mission. We quickly started meeting with chefs to learn as much as we could. We met with Chef Daniel Asher of River and Woods, Chef Nate Hines of the Welsh Rabbit Bistro, and Chef Valentino of Wildfeast Foods. We toured a pasta manufacturing facility and met with a pasta equipment operation. We’ve continued to work closely with Cultivate Consulting and Dean Hines, GSSE alum and co-owner of the Welsh Rabbit, gleaning their expertise for a window into the local food business world.
Simultaneously, we are applying lean start-up principles we learned in class by making pasta ourselves and getting it into the hands of potential customers for immediate feedback. We are hosting several pop-up pasta events this summer to identify consumer buying decisions, product preferences, and value propositions that resonate. Even using “lean” methods, we are learning the important lesson of being even leaner (e.g. making smaller batch sizes for product testing).
Not only are we prototyping our minimum viable product (MVP), but we also plan to prototype our employment model by working with Project Self-Sufficiency to determine product fit, identify further needs, and co-create our model with the single parents we’re wanting to support.
Stay tuned for updates! Follow our blog at www.coloradofoodworks.com/blog and Instagram @colorado_foodworks.