Incubator program to offer expert help to small hospitality businesses

A new kitchen and food incubator initiative, The Food Incubator + Network Centre (FoodINC), aims to serve as a launchpad for food business start-ups and entrepreneurs as part of the ongoing efforts to boost the recovery of Melbourne’s hospitality industry.

The organisations behind the initiative – Melbourne Polytechnic, Melbourne Innovation Centre and Melbourne’s North Food Group, with support from City of Whittlesea – hope FoodINC will help those dreaming of joining Melbourne’s food scene to get their foot in the door.

The incubator sites will be at Melbourne Polytechnic’s Preston and Epping campuses, with the Preston incubator set to be launched in early 2022, with Epping’s to follow shortly after.

FoodINC offers users access to the highest food-safety grade commercial kitchen spaces to take their food ventures to the next level with access to premium facilities to expand skill sets, whether in food experimentation or batch food production. By receiving the support and guidance they need, small-business owners can begin to take steps towards expansion.

Melbourne Polytechnic will monitor the needs of FoodINC users and offer training opportunities as required across compliance, food safety and occupational health and safety, led by the institute’s industry-expert educators. Melbourne Innovation Centre will also deliver small business and entrepreneurship professional development around strategy, digital solutions and business growth. All Melburnians, including current and future Melbourne Polytechnic students, will have the opportunity to access FoodINC.

“We’re seeing a new wave of entrepreneurs as a result of COVID-19, with many Melburnians having that extra time to harbour an idea or consider making a career change,” Kerryn Lester-Smith, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Melbourne Polytechnic, said.

“After a time of uncertainty, Melburnians are considering their true passions. Now more than ever is the time to invest in brighter career aspirations. The FoodINC initiative is tailored to support business owners at multiple stages in their journey to starting or growing a successful business.

“From those looking to explore an idea but unsure where to begin, to people operating small businesses from home and looking to upscale, FoodINC nurtures many facets of small business recovery,” Lester-Smith added. “For many, the option to invest in costly kitchen appliances and hospitality equipment is out of the question, but we don’t want that to stop budding entrepreneurs in their tracks. Access to commercial kitchens on our campuses will help provide the tools businesses need to flourish without breaking budgets.”

Lou Zarro, Manager of the Kitchen & Food Incubator from Melbourne Innovation Centre reiterated the importance of the FoodINC initiative in light of the changing hospitality landscape.

“As the Melbourne hospitality and food manufacturing sectors come to terms with the disruption of COVID-19 – from staffing issues to the rise of food delivery services and the changing tastes of the community – the ability to readjust to industry trends is crucial,” Zarro said. “The collective strength of Melbourne Polytechnic, Melbourne Innovation Centre and Melbourne’s North Food Group will help ensure that aspiring and early phase food startups can access a wealth of training, professional development and industry expertise to fuel their business success.”