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Have a food-based startup idea? MSU has a kitchen for that

December 8, 2022
Environmental Economics and Management senior Madison Marsh poses with her cookbook "The Cut" during a shop start-ups and explore entrepreneurship event in the Student Services building on Dec. 2, 2022.
Environmental Economics and Management senior Madison Marsh poses with her cookbook "The Cut" during a shop start-ups and explore entrepreneurship event in the Student Services building on Dec. 2, 2022.

A bakery, a vegan sauce line, a portable soup company: At MSU, student-created food startups have found their place in the Venture Kitchen, a fully licensed professional kitchen space on the second floor of the Union. 

The kitchen, officially launched this summer, is an extension of the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Discovery Program and is free to use for food-based entrepreneurs within the program.

“We guide (students) through the elements of starting a business and then if they need to use the Venture Kitchen, they can utilize the kitchen,” the Burgess Institute director of operations Lori Fischer said. “When they’re ready to produce and sell, we can help them get licensed.”

Marketing junior and founder of OG’s Bakery Olivia Gargett spends nearly every week in the kitchen fulfilling orders for her homemade treats.

“The Venture Kitchen space has been amazing for me,” Gargett said. “The cost of rent for that kind of thing can be very expensive, so it’s just been a great space for me to be able to fulfill my orders while I’m at school and also keep growing.”

Gargett said she joined the Discovery Program her sophomore year to meet people after being online her freshman year. The program is open to MSU students of any major. It supports student entrepreneurs in local, state and nationwide pitch competitions for an opportunity to receive funding and to join the Burgess Institute Launch program.

“I entered the Burgess New Venture Challenge pitch competition just for fun, to meet people because I was a COVID freshman, so I hadn’t really met anyone else,” Gargett said.

Gargett ended up winning first place in the competition and received funds to support the growth of her business. Those funds help her purchase bulk supplies, rent vendor spaces at farmers' markets and are now going towards renting an incubator kitchen space in her hometown of Grand Rapids.

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Environmental economics senior and author of The Cut cookbook Madison Marsh uses the Venture Kitchen space to develop a line of vegan sauces.

“I really use the space to be able to go in there and play around with different recipes and figure out what I want in them,” Marsh said.

Marsh founded The Cut in May 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It originally started out as an idea to create a recipe book for my friends and family just to give them something that would excite them a little bit since it was such a tough time,” Marsh said. “Before I knew it, the recipe book I was putting together had almost 100 recipes and I was really enjoying the process.”

Last year, Marsh won $3,000 from a pitch competition and was a recipient of the James Ian Gray Scholarship for Entrepreneurial Studies. She released her cookbook last November.

“The Burgess Institute has been extremely helpful in helping me grow my business,” Marsh said. “Since day one, when I told them about the cookbook I had been working on, they wanted to help me.”

Marsh is currently working with the MSU Product Center to achieve food safety verification in hopes of selling her vegan sauces at local vendors like Campbell’s Market Basket, Horrocks Farm Market and the Capital City Market in Lansing. Marsh and other Discovery Program members sell their products at the Union pop-up shop, located in the former Dairy Store space, on game-day Saturdays and during special events.

Marketing senior and founder of portable soup company, Soup N’ Sip, Olivia Simone said the support she has received in the development of her company inspired her to reciprocate that support as a venture capitalist post-graduation.

“The help and the community and the support from the Burgess Institute is nothing like I’ve ever seen or felt before,” Simone said. “They’re the most hands-on professors and advisors I’ve ever met and it’s honestly made my time at MSU so enjoyable and so personable.”

Simone founded the company last year after winning a pitch competition. She said she uses the Venture Kitchen when her home kitchen is too small.

“I had a dream a while back of having (Soup ‘N Sip) in the football stadium, ... but the biggest issue I’m running into is how do you make that much soup?” Simone said. “It’s very much a long-haul decision and a lot of money. ... The Burgess Institute has given me so much funding so I could do it, I’m just trying to see if that’s where my next steps lie since I am graduating and looking for a full-time job.”

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Gargett, on the other hand, said she plans to run OG’s Bakery full-time after college and is confident that MSU will continue to support the growth of her company beyond the Venture Kitchen space.

“I’m planning on continuing my venture after college,” Gargett said. “As of right now I’m not looking for other jobs, so I’m planning on full-throttling."

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