Ashley Colpaart, founder and chief executive of The Food Corridor in Fort Collins, aims to help specialty food entrepreneurs succeed in the marketplace. Joel Blocker / For BizWest

Food Corridor brings cooks and their kitchens together

FORT COLLINS — In this era of Top Chef and the Food Network, gourmet and specialty foods rank high in America. To feed that love, artisanal food producers are serving up an assortment of palate-pleasing delicacies. 

Some of the ways these food entrepreneurs separate their products from mass-produced foods include making them more personal, hands-on and unique than run-of-the-mill flavors.

One of the challenges they face in doing those things, however, can cost too much to maintain and limit the potential for making the businesses successful.

Lucky for everyone, a solution to both problems is in the making. 

The answer involves shifting focus to the well-known directive of location, location, location —  but not in the way marketing and sales departments traditionally understand it.

In Ashley Colpaart’s plan, the location is a shared resource, and the result is efficient, affordable and a win-win for all.

Like all small businesses, specialty food entrepreneurs start up with an investment in development, production, marketing and sales. One of the differences, however, is that for a lot of new businesses, products can be made in the basement until sales show enough of a market to invest in a separate location.

For food artisans, the basement isn’t an option. Nothing can be publicly test marketed, much less sold, unless it’s been prepared in a health department-approved kitchen from the start.

“They’re required to produce food in a licensed kitchen,” Colpaart said, “and that can be hard to find, expensive and sometimes just not suitable for the kind of set-up they need.”

To give them a better chance of making it in the marketplace, she’s kicking off her own venture: The Food Corridor. The online marketplace will match new and growing food businesses with underutilized commercial kitchens.

As a 15-year food industry veteran, Colpaart launched her company in 2015 and currently is running a pilot program to collect data and test drive the idea.

The Food Corridor is built on a sharing platform similar to Uber. “We’re like an Airbnb for commercial kitchens,” Colpaart said.

The pilot program, which ends in March, includes 12 pilot partners. The goal is to collect information that will fine-tune development of the software that will match entrepreneurs with kitchens and cooking amenities. 

Once the program is up and running, it will provide real-time matchmaking, online booking, financial transactions and more. 

Entrepreneurs will include food manufacturers, food trucks and caterers. Commercial kitchens will be places such as commissaries, food banks, restaurants, schools and churches. In addition to kitchens, they will also include cold storage, trucks and equipment.

“Part of our service will also be confirming that verified users have business licenses, ServSafe cards and proof of insurance,” Colpaart said.

Although Colpaart has a strong background in the food industry and came up with the idea of the online marketplace for foodies and kitchens, she’s had her own challenges in getting the project to this point.

“Being a non-tech co-founder and finding out how to build the technology as well as how to get people to join the team has been my pain point from the start,” she said.

Her co-founder, chief financial officer Ben Nelson, has a background in finance, corporate management, business development and sales. They were a good match for sustaining a business in the food industry but weak in the tech know-how to create the software product.

“I needed to bring on a tech co-founder to develop the idea I had in my head,” Colpaart said.

To address the deficit, Colpaart joined Galvanize, a shared workspace, incubator and code school. She also hooked up with Innosphere, an incubator that offers a network of advisers and mentors in addition to other services.

“They helped me assemble a technical advisory board, draft the position description for a CTO and ask the right kind of technical questions to be able to evaluate candidates,” Colpaart said. 

The result is the recent hiring of Dan Moore to be chief technical officer. She described him as a sophisticated developer who also has a passion and background in the food arena.

“Innosphere helped me with strategizing, networking, planning for fund raising and getting the word out,” she said. “Galvanize has a finger on the pulse of networking and classes.”

Charisse Bowen, Galvanize campus director in Fort Collins, compared the company to a gym.

“People join a gym to have access to personal trainers or equipment or classes,” she said, “but a lot really happens when someone jumps on a bike next to a guy who pedals faster.

“We connect the infectious nature entrepreneurs have, and they get inspired and gain confidence they wouldn’t have in isolation.”

According to Emily Wilson, Innosphere development director, the incubator helps startups with customized development plans, ongoing support and resources.

Innosphere also provided the opportunity for Colpaart to meet one of her pilot partners, James Schrack, co-founder and chief executive of Stuff’n Mallows, a Fort Collins company that makes gourmet marshmallows stuffed with meltable chocolate chips.

At the time, Stuff’n Mallows was renting commissary space on an hourly basis when needed and when the spaces were available.

“There have often been capacity issues,” Schrack said, describing the challenges he’s had in using various commissary kitchens.

As a result of being in The Food Corridor’s pilot program, Schrack’s company now is matched up with an underutilized kitchen. Stuff’n Mallows plans to start using the Weld County school district’s kitchen in April.

In addition to having access to a large-capacity working kitchen, Schrack will be able to consolidate his operations. “We were producing, storing and shipping in different places,” he said, “but here we’ll have everything in just one space.”

The other part of the equation is that not only will Stuff’n Mallows have the opportunity to quadruple its production, but the school district will be making extra income.

FORT COLLINS — In this era of Top Chef and the Food Network, gourmet and specialty foods rank high in America. To feed that love, artisanal food producers are serving up an assortment of palate-pleasing delicacies. 

Some of the ways these food entrepreneurs separate their products from mass-produced foods include making them more personal, hands-on and unique than run-of-the-mill flavors.

One of the challenges they face in doing those things, however, can cost too much to maintain and limit the potential for making the businesses successful.

Lucky for everyone, a solution to both problems is in the making. 

The answer involves shifting focus to the well-known directive of location, location, location —  but not in the way marketing and sales departments traditionally understand it.

In Ashley Colpaart’s plan, the location is a shared resource, and the result is efficient, affordable and a win-win for all.

Like all small businesses, specialty food entrepreneurs start up with an investment in development, production, marketing and sales. One of the differences, however, is that for a lot of new businesses, products can be made in the basement until sales show enough of a market to invest in a separate location.

For food artisans, the basement isn’t an option. Nothing can be publicly test marketed, much less sold, unless it’s been prepared in a health department-approved kitchen from the start.

“They’re required to produce food in a licensed kitchen,” Colpaart said, “and…