Each week, the Civic Accelerator blog features an entrepreneur from our growing portfolio of more than 100 startups to share their “ah-ha” moments, trials, and successes in launching and running a social venture. This week’s venture profile is on Jake Schoenknecht, Director of the Small Batch Program at the Detroit Food Academy.
The 30,000 ft View
Small Batch is a program that commercializes student-led culinary projects from the Detroit Food Academy (DFA), and in turn creates high paying jobs for Detroit Youth. Currently, Small Batch employs youth to produce, market, and distribute Mitten Bites, an all-natural snack bar made with local, organic ingredients, among other locally crafted products.
Educated in Dietetics, Jake entered into a career in food by way of Whole Foods Market as a Healthy Eating Specialist. Wanting to combine his love of food and passion for social impact, he accepted a year-long Americorps placement in his hometown of Detroit with the Detroit Food Academy, during which he successfully launched the Small Batch initiative and continues to lead the program today.
“Ah – ha” Moments
When Jake first joined DFA, he noticed that there were a handful of student-created products gaining traction at local markets, including Mitten Bites. In additional to generating earned revenue for DFA, the production, sale, and marketing of these products created long-term, high-paying jobs for the students involved, as well as developing their entrepreneurial and leadership skills. Making the connection between the need for great tasting, healthy food and the need for sustainable youth employment, Jake and the Detroit Food Academy team advocated for the launch of the Small Batch Program. The city and local foundations took notice as well, and provided Small Batch with the seed capital needed to launch.
Trials and Setbacks
Like many organizations that work with youth in Detroit, lack of transportation continues to be a challenge for Small Batch. Without reliable public transportation or the means to purchase a vehicle and insurance, it can be difficult for Small Batch youth employees to commit to work opportunities across the city. Jake and the team are working on temporary solutions to this challenge such as purchasing company vehicles and coordinating with other city programs dedicated to youth transportation.
Thanks to initial support from the Skillman Foundation and buy-in from early partners like the Whole Foods Midwest Regional team and the Michigan Good Food Fund, Mitten Bites, among other DFA products, can now be found across Michigan in Whole Foods Markets, airports, hotels and local specialty retailers. With its sights set on the future, the Small Batch team is now preparing for the expanded distribution of Mitten Bites across the Midwest, in addition to launching new products.
Jake’s Tips, Tricks, and Hacks
- Be intentional when arranging your leadership and advisors. Engaging youth, food experts, and business leaders at all levels of decision-making has allowed DFA to stay a well-rounded and quality program.
- Invest in efficiency. Platforms like Deputy allow Jake to manage scheduling, payroll, and all other administrative tasks very efficiently and effectively
Join the Good Fight
To start, grab a box of Mitten Bites! If you don’t live near a retailer selling DFA products, Jake suggests finding opportunities in your own community where common business, health, and employment interests intersect. Together, small businesses and causes can share costs and work flows to more efficiently accomplish their shared missions.