Catering to Local Needs
Austin and Central Texas have a thriving food scene, and Texas State’s Peg Richmond is helping local entrepreneurs succeed at bringing their creative ideas to the table.
Richmond is this year’s “Innovation” winner in the Graduate College’s International Research Conference for her project, “Exploring Educational Needs of Emerging Food Entrepreneurs: Identifying Challenges, Solutions and Resource Gaps within the Austin, Texas Manufacturing Ecosystem.”
Richmond is a doctoral student in the Adult, Professional and Community Education program. In addition to pursuing her Ph.D., Richmond works as a grant specialist at Texas State’s Small Business Development Center, where she advises local entrepreneurs and connects them to resources for success.
She noticed a pattern of questions that food-sector clients asked on the same topics and at the same time in their businesses’ growth. New business owners wanted to know how to find commercial kitchens, how to get their packaged goods into distribution, how to market their innovative products to both vendors and consumers, and other steps to scaling up this kind of enterprise. Seeing these common issues, Richmond wanted to investigate gaps in local resources and what could be done to fill them.
To learn more about the challenges and possible solutions, Richmond spoke individually with 24 leaders of local food and beverage companies and people looking to enter the industry. She also met with community stakeholders — economic development staff, investor networks, nonprofit and government staff — to assess what resources already exist in the Austin area.
After analyzing the information and identifying the main themes, Richmond developed a continuing education course for people starting out in the region’s packaged food and beverage sector. “It’s for established entrepreneurs who are at the scaling phase,” explains Richmond. “They’re in independent stores, their vendors are local, but now H-E-B or Target are looking to put them in hundreds of stores.” The course strengthens entrepreneurs’ skills in business strategy and operations, so that they understand the marketplace as a whole, what buyers expect, and what they need to negotiate.
Richmond is pleased with the impact that her work has already had. “We’ve held the class four times now and the feedback has been great,” she reports. “If entrepreneurs can say ‘no’ appropriately to a buyer, or negotiate appropriately, that has a big impact — including for the people who depend on them, their employees and their families.”
In addition to imparting practical knowledge and skills, Richmond hopes that her research contributes to a broader question: “Can you quantify and describe an entrepreneur so that you can provide training to someone who’s not that archetype and help them get there?”
Local small-business owners can contact Texas State University’s Small Business Development Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512.716.4800 to get information or set up an advising appointment.