In 2010, foodpreneur and morning person Rachel DesRochers founded Grateful Grahams, a handmade vegan graham cracker company. As a means to have a place to create her goodies, in 2013 she started the commercial kitchen Incubator Kitchen Collective in Newport. Since then, she’s helped more than 170 businesses get their start, including Brown Bear Bakery, Kombuchinnati, Skinny Piggy Kombucha, and Tuba Baking. Besides running the kitchen, DesRochers leads Power to Pursue, the largest women’s initiative in the city.
LINK nky: What is the mission of Incubator Kitchen Collective and how does it contribute to the local community’s culinary landscape?
DesRochers: “I think there’s two things. One, shared space commercial use for entrepreneurs. Second, healthy people build healthy businesses. It’s important to create a space where no matter the size of their dream, they can provide support and grow their dreams. We’ve had body care companies, food, and drink. If you have an idea for a food business, come talk to me before Googling.”
LINK nky: Could you provide insights into the key programs and initiatives offered by Incubator Kitchen Collective to support aspiring culinary entrepreneurs?
DesRochers: “Our goal is to support entrepreneurs where they’re at and help them get to where they want to go. One of our key partners is Kroger. With them, we have a food artisan grant. We give eights grants to current and new companies to work out of the kitchen for a year for free. They’re a fantastic partner. They believe in what we’re doing.
One of our other key partners is Blue North. I sit on as chair of the Programming and Event Committee. I look at the impact that the Northern Kentucky Entrepreneur Fund has had. It’s a partnership with Main Street Ventures. We just had an event and a few of the grant winners spoke. I was so taken back. I’ve been doing this for 14 years. There’s never been that level of support and the impact that these $10-15,000 grants have had on these business. It revolutionized these businesses overnight. I heard one of my companies say, ‘I was stuck and because of this, and I’m not stuck anymore.’
We also pull in other organizations like African American Chamber to share their programming with our members. We are in the process of building out Good n’ Local. Our goal is to create a consumer packaged goods association for the region in partnership with Main Street Ventures.”
LINK nky: What success stories or notable achievements can be attributed to the collaborative efforts of Incubator Kitchen Collective and its community partners?
DesRochers: “I strive daily to remove barriers for people. We’ve helped over 180 food start-ups. Sixty have incubated into their own retail outlets, kitchens, and restaurants. 95 percent of businesses close in the first year. 95 percent of Incubator Kitchen businesses stay in business after the first year. When I think of people who have ‘made it,’ look at Tuba Baking, North South Baking Company, Tickety-Boo Treats, The Pickled Pig, WhirlyBird Granola, and CinSoy foods. Café Mochiko has a James Beard-nominated pastry chef, [Elaine Uykimpang Bentz]. This region is really, really incredible. We care.”
LINK nky: What are your thoughts on partnering with Blue North?
DesRochers: “I love partnering with them. I think having Dave [Knox, Blue North’s CEO] in that role has transformed the whole entrepreneur ecosystem and it’s ignited excitement back in this region in a way that I haven’t felt for a while. What I love about Dave is he’s a yes guy. A lot of mentors whom I’ve talked to have kind of said, ‘Oh, you’re doing too much.’ And he’s like, ‘Great, how are we going to execute it?’ It’s been a great support for our members here at the incubator, having that next level of support that’s a little more in-depth. I think the programming that Blue North supports is super accessible for entrepreneurs across the region with their Ask An series.”
LINK nky: Tell me about Power to Pursue.
DesRochers: “Power to Pursue is our women’s empowerment movement. We put on two conferences a year. We had 550 women at our conference in May. We partner on the Ascending Women Event series, and we’re part of the Queen City Game Changers program, an executive coaching leadership program with P&G and Kroger. I’ve been able to not only grow a company, but myself. I have grown. What I’m building has grown.
Part of Pursue’s mission is really to remind us that we are already good enough. I want an army of women leaders, but I want an army of embodied, grounded women leaders. What if we helped women feel confident and secure so that they actually can lead in their offices, in their homes, in their communities? The role doesn’t matter. It’s happiness that matters. It’s feeling like you’re enough, that you’re worthy, and that’s it. I tell people Power to Pursue’s mission is really to create a safe space for women to be seen, heard, and loved in. Let it grow from that.”
LINK nky: You make it look easy, but it’s obviously not. How do you do that?
DesRochers: “Through my gratitude practice. If I look at who I am as a person and my purpose, it is to spread the message of gratitude and build community. These are the ways that it’s unfolded for me. But I credit the fact that I am still standing after 13 and a half years of entrepreneurship because I have a gratitude practice. When I feel stuck or alone or lost or exhausted, I’m not leaning on a depleted self. I’m leaning on something that helps me see that it’s going to be okay. I remind people all the time when they say, ‘I don’t know how you do it all.’ And I just smile and go, ‘I don’t.’ I think that’s very unrealistic expectations to put on humans. It’s good when you build from your heart.”
To engage with Incubator Kitchen Collective, follow them on social media: Instagram and Facebook. Sign up for their newsletter through their website. Consider them for local catering, as they will connect you to their local companies.