carolynsacco

Munching on New Haven pizza, food entrepreneurs from around the Elm City area gathered at the Urban Collective on Willow Street on Tuesday to network and discuss the possibility of collaborating on food-related projects.

The event was hosted by food podcaster Tagan Engel, Director of Innovation at Dwight Hall Onyeka Obiocha and the entrepreneurship boost program Collaboratory. At the end of the event, three local entrepreneurs pitched business ideas and received feedback from attendees. The event was the second in a monthly series of programs designed to build community among food entrepreneurs.

“When you think about the social benefits of having different people coming together to eat food, when you think about the environmental benefits of local resilient food systems, when you think about the economic benefits of good jobs, food touches all of those three so precisely and I think that’s a good place for us to start,” said Obiocha, who is also a mentor-in-residence at the Center of Innovative Thinking at Yale.

Attendees spent the first part of the event getting to know each other and talking about their businesses and ideas — a process that Margaret Lee ʼ14, co-director of the Collaboratory, described as an important aspect of community building. She explained the program’s goal is to be a recurring event at which entrepreneurs can find community and highlight the “amazing” happenings in the New Haven food scene.

The event centered partly on an activity in which attendees pitched entrepreneurial food ideas to the crowd. Participants had three minutes to pitch their ideas and received three questions from the audience. Marcella Lawson, who founded the Recipe for Success Program, said she wants to bring “life skills through the culinary arts” to the city via a ten-week course at New Level Academy in Bridgeport. She shared her ideas with the group in the hope that one of them would be able to offer locations or provide resources for her program.

“I love the concept of the Urban Collective, and I wanted to see who I can connect with and collaborate with to make this program as good as it can be and reach as many students as possible,” Lawson said.

Sustainability was also a major theme of the night.

Kathy Sharon, who owns a bed and breakfast in Guilford, said she attended to connect with other people involved with the industry, but said she is also interested in sustainable food justice and developing a micro-farm on her property that could “serve the community” and teach children about urban farming.

In addition to the business efforts associated with the event, Collaboratory co-director Lee emphasized its importance as a space where people who love food and want to foster its role in New Haven can come together. Engel, who hosts the community food podcast “The Table Underground,” said she hopes that food lovers in the Elm City can support each other in an ongoing process, bringing together “veterans in the food business and people who are just starting.”

“Food is the focus of my life and always has been,” she said. “I think my earliest memory and love is food and that has never gone away.”

The Urban Collective is located at 85 Willow St.

Carolyn Sacco | carolyn.sacco@yale.edu