Training workshops to focus on problems entrepreneurs face

By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI

Capital Press

Economic development specialists are taking a page from their high-tech playbook to help startup food companies in Oregon's Willamette Valley.

Farmers hoping to launch or expand value-added ventures are invited to participate in the Food Biz Boot Camp, a series of training workshops planned for late January, February and March.

The training format has been successful with startup technology firms in the region and has now been adapted to the food industry, said John Sechrest, economic development director for the Corvallis-Benton Chamber Coalition, one of the event's organizers.

"Same approach, different content," Sechrest said.

The idea to focus on food companies seemed natural, given the region's agricultural industry and the burgeoning "local food" movement in Eugene and other areas, he said.

"It seemed like an obvious low-hanging fruit," Sechrest said. "We're focusing on this as a regional effort."

The boot camp format will cover all the relevant aspects on entering the food industry, including finances, marketing, distribution and safety regulations.

Organizers want to invigorate prospective food entrepreneurs, but the goal is also to illustrate the serious challenges they're likely to encounter, he said. "It's sort of a reality check on some level."

Technology companies that obtain assistance from economic development specialists greatly upped their chances of survival, Sechrest said.

An important aspect of that education is networking with others who are encountering similar hurdles, he said.

Andrew Martin, a livestock producer with Bald Hill Farm near Corvallis, Ore., expects to speak about the problems small-scale farmers face with processing.

Tyler Jones, a livestock producer at nearby Afton Field Farm, plans to tell participants about his efforts to sell beef, pork and other meats directly to consumers over the past six years.

"Direct market your product, if at all possible," he said. "We're able to get 100 percent of the profit and we're not paying middlemen to market our product."

The series will be held on Jan. 29-30, Feb. 26-27 and March 26-27 in Weigand Hall at Oregon State University. For more information on registration, call John Sechrest at 541-757-1507.

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