FORT COLLINS — In her spare time, Ashley Colpaart enjoys inviting people over to play poker and strategy games. If the success of her business strategy is any indication, she’d be a formidable opponent.
Colpaart is co-founder and chief executive of The Food Corridor, a Fort Collins-based virtual food hub that connects food entrepreneurs to commercial kitchen space.
“Mom was a food entrepreneur; she did catering and made hot sauce out of our kitchen,” Colpaart said. “Dad was an engineer in the Bay Area. I came to Colorado to work on my Ph.D.” in food systems at Colorado State University. A registered dietitian, she also earned a master’s in food policy and applied nutrition at Tufts University.
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The idea for The Food Corridor came to her when she took her first ride with Uber and thought about its business model of using private vehicles instead of buying them. “I realized access to infrastructure could be more important than ownership,” she said. “I realized this ‘access economy’ could connect food entrepreneurs with underutilized assets” such as existing commercial kitchens.
Founded in 2016 with help from the $25,000 she won by taking top honors at a University of Northern Colorado Monfort College of Business Entrepreneurial Challenge, the Food Corridor became the first food tech startup aiming to regionalize food systems through reducing redundancy, increasing efficiencies and providing a seamless interface for anyone seeking commercial kitchens, commissaries, processing, co-packing and food-storage spaces. Its software platform manages scheduling, compliance, time tracking, billing and client communication. The company also moderates the Network for Incubator and Commissary Kitchens, and its app, The Kitchen Door, provides a database of shared-use kitchens in the United States and Canada.
In 2013, she co-founded the Northern Colorado Food Cluster, which worked to promote community economic development and food-systems industry integration in the region.
Colpaart contributes to the community by meeting with other early-stage entrepreneurs, speaking at startup weeks and through groups such as Galvanize and Innosphere. She also sends monthly updates to community members and her investors “that helps people track where I’m at, decisions I’m making as an executive.”
Those investors are all from Colorado, Colpaart said.
“I raise all my seed money in Colorado,” she said. “Everybody says you have to go to the coasts for investors, but I was able to raise it with angels and venture capitalists all in Colorado.”
She didn’t plan it that way, she said, “but it just kind of happened. It means I’ve met all my investors in person and they know me.”
Those personal interactions energize her, she said, as does her company’s mission.
“We’re solving a real-world problem, bringing value to a new, emerging sector that’s exciting,” Colpaart said. “Everything we do is customer centered.”