Research has found that in Wisconsin, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) individuals have disproportionately low levels of business ownership and have demonstrably weaker relationships with key people and institutions in the small business development field.

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Despite this statistic, the food sector has some of the highest representation of BIPOC business ownership in Wisconsin and continues to be an arena in which BIPOC entrepreneurs pursue opportunities to develop new businesses and products. Because food businesses are subject to unique regulatory requirements, food business entrepreneurs require training in food safety protocol, licensing, and regulations that are not typically covered by traditional small business assistance providers, leaving a training and resource gap for small-scale food business entrepreneurs, especially those facing structural barriers. It is common for these entrepreneurs to receive numerous referrals but receive comparatively limited direct assistance.

The UW-Madison Extension’s Food Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Development (FEED) Initiative disrupts this “referral loop” by (1) increasing food business entrepreneurs’ access to information, technical assistance, and other resources, and (2) improving food business entrepreneurs’ readiness to meet with traditional small business assistance providers. The FEED Initiative achieves this through direct programming including food business showcases, webinars, food safety and licensing trainings, and an annual food business summit. We also work with partners, such as municipalities, to evaluate and improve local programs that promote micro enterprise development.

Participant demographic data and program evaluations show that FEED programing serves a majority female audience and meets or exceeds demographic parity for Wisconsin. Moreover, individual participants and organizational partners alike report that our trainings and evaluations lead to changes in knowledge, e.g., increased awareness of food safety and licensing requirements by program participants. They also directly inform decision-making at the business and agency level as reflected in changes to business plan development and grant and technical assistance program structure.