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The Food Innovation Center

By: Christina O'Connor, Pacific Business Newsl

First published: Pacific Business News, November 13, 2020

Common Ground Kauai, an 83-acre agricultural campus located on the former Guava Kai plantation, has launched the Food Innovation Center, a new initiative to help grow Hawaii’s food economy.

A vertically integrated hub, the Food Innovation Center features farming, along with accelerator, incubator and distribution programs for farmers and food entrepreneurs.

As Jennifer Luck, director of program development and community impact at Common Ground Kauai, describes it, the center is designed to create a “thriving and resilient” food economy by nurturing the next generation of local food producers.

“Investing in local businesses and building robust supply chains are central to Common Ground’s mission,” explained Luck. “The Food Innovation Center is an economic development roadmap for entrepreneurs, innovators, small businesses and farmers to scale both ideas and products for consumer demand.”

“Our goal is to support and grow Kauai's food ecosystem, from farmers to value-added product producers,” she added. “We realized early on that supporting product producers with training, mentorship, funding and a distribution platform was integral to transforming Hawaii's food economy.”

The center’s four central pillars include:

  • Farming@Common Ground, which aims to cultivate biodiversity and improve yields per acre.
  • Accelerator@Common Ground, a business development program that provides funding, training, and mentorship to help businesses grow.
  • Incubator@Common Ground, which helps early-stage companies develop and build their business.
  • Distribution@Common Ground, a platform for local companies to market products to a larger audience.

Farming operations began in the fall, and so far, the accelerator program has worked with two companies, while the incubator has its first cohort of 10 businesses.

“We chose our inaugural cohort companies for a couple of key reasons. One, commitment to local supply chains and sustainable agricultural practices and, two, potential to scale food products to the local, Kauai market and beyond,” Luck said. “We are genuinely excited about all of them … they are creating innovative, high-quality products on Kauai, and they are committed to that vision of building the food economy on Kauai.”

Companies currently in the programs produce goods including organic chicken, canned ahi, coffee, honey and more — all locally made.

“The programs are going incredibly well. Accelerator companies are working on supply chain development, re branding and marketing efforts, and outreach to mainland retail outlets,” Luck said. “The incubator companies are developing strategic growth goals, conducting SWOT analysis, crafting value propositions, identifying solutions to supply chain issues, and sharing best practices.”

“By the end of the programs, we hope these businesses will be better equipped to navigate the post-Covid economy, clear on their path forward, and armed with the knowledge and tools to better manage and grow their businesses,” she added.

As for distribution, Luck said that Common Ground is building an e-commerce site that it hopes to launch soon.

A public-private partnership, the Food Innovation Center has received funding from the Kauai Government Employees Federal Credit Union, a CARES Act grant, and the Ulupono Initiative. Currently, Common Ground is working to raise additional capital from private investors in order to conduct campus upgrades and expansions, including food processing facilities.

Ultimately, Luck said that Common Ground hopes the center can help Kauai diversify its economy.

“We feel that diversifying is pushing Kauai to a place where small businesses that are focused on agricultural pursuits, whether that is farmers or product producers, become an integral part of Kauai’s economy,” she said.

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