One of the most popular startup sectors is food, and but why do such types of small business attract so much interest?
From cheesemakers and cupcake bakers to farmers' market traders and street food vans, recent years have seen a sharp surge in small food businesses with a focus on well-sourced high quality ingredients and personal service.
David Matchett, market development manager of London's Borough Market has noticed the rise in interest. "There's always been an interest in food businesses, but we have definitely seen an upturn in the number of City professionals who have become disillusioned with their career, want to be more independent and look to follow their own dreams," he says. "We also see people who spend their redundancy package on starting a small business."
As a sound artist Ole Hansen was finding it hard to get funding; he decided if he started his own business he could at least fund his own projects with the profits. After six months planning he launched Hansen & Lydersen, his salmon-smoking business, in an outbuilding of his house in London.
"It's not the most obvious thing to do in a city, but I never thought, 'it's weird to smoke salmon in London'. I had not done it in Norway, but I am a very technical person and I am good with buildings. So I didn't see the potential pitfalls; I was focused on how I was going to do it," he says.
Back to basics
Hansen believes customers' interest in small artisanal businesses is a natural development. "We are used to all this horrible plastic and tackiness and I think we are so sick of the ordinary," he says. "The trend is for people just making one thing and becoming very good at it. It is like a loop – the artisan is back."
Ben Mackinnon, who launched E5 Bakehouse in an old railway arch in east London three years ago, says this wave of small food businesses is a response to capitalism. "If you are buying a product made from well-sourced ingredients you know that you are supporting sustainable farming system, which improves biodiversity, you support local employment and more skilled employment and people who take pride in what they do."
He is one of many in the sector who launched his business after feeling little satisfaction in his career. "I was working in sustainability and renewable energy, but I wasn't really enjoying it and I wanted to do something entrepreneurial," he says. "I get a great deal of satisfaction from producing something and manufacturing and retailing – those things really stimulate me."
Petra Barran, the founder of street food trading association Kerb, says the personal contact between customer and trader is key in these businesses. "It's about the people and the stories behind the product; the whole experience. It is one of the reasons the street food industry is successful right now," she says.
Routes to market
Both E5 Bakehouse and Hansen & Lydersen have grown organically and picked up business through meeting customers and word-of-mouth.
Mackinnon started out speaking to people about his product in local shops. Soon he was getting orders in and after first baking his bread in the oven of a nearby pizza shop he moved into some railway arches and built his own wood fired oven. Today E5 Bakehouse serves 35 shops and restaurants and also has local deliveries by bike.
Hansen took the same face-to-face approach. "I had lists of good chefs, bad chefs and extremely good chefs as I went round knocking on their doors introducing myself as a smoked salmon producer in London and asked them to try my product," he says. His customers now include restaurants, punters at food markets and visitors to the smoke house.
Easy access for startups
Hansen was well into his project by the time he thought about practicalities. "The big question was, am I allowed to smoke salmon here? I didn't really think about that until I was really far into the project," he says.
It turned out he was fine. "As long as you're in a B2 unit you can do it. I needed the food hygiene standards of course, but that is no big deal. People can think all this is so difficult, but it's no more difficult than taking a driver's license so whatever you want to do you can do it."
The Food Standards Agency and local authorities can answer any questions budding food entrepreneurs have and if they choose to go down the route of trading at markets, many offer support for development of the business.
In fact the increase in food markets has made it much more accessible. Matchett says it's the perfect way in for anyone looking to start up in the food sector. "Starting out your business in a market means you don't have the overheads of taking on a shop and it gives you an opportunity to ask yourself: 'Do I really want to do this?'," he says.
His advice is to speak to other traders, be it in the market or on the high street.
"Don't believe that because you have an amazing product or you have amazing skills that you have what's needed to get the product sold," he explains. "The product should sell itself but you still need to know who the customers are, what they want and what their expectations are."
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