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On okonomiyaki and entrepreneurship

I really like okonomiyaki. It is a type of Japanese savoury pancake, and I used to eat it on a weekly basis when I lived in Tokyo. There aren't a lot of places serving this dish in London, but fortunately, a food stall at my local Chatsworth market cooks up some of the best okonomiyaki I've had outside Japan.

While my primary interest in my local stall has been to satisfy my appetite for eggs, shredded cabbage, octopus and kimchi it has, with a full belly, been interesting to observe how the business has evolved over the last year.

From doing markets on Sundays, it has had what appears to be a steady growth, beginning with a pop up restaurant in a vacant building to now a 3 month residency in a local café where they on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays have the opportunity to use its space to seat and serve customers, and test out peoples' appetite for a sit down okonomiyaki meal.

Today Kitchenette, a kitchen incubator for food start-ups, and Nesta launch A Steak in the Economy, which explores how food start-ups, such as my local okonomiyaki chef, are flourishing in spite of tough economic conditions.

As the report illustrates, the key to the success of food entrepreneurs has been the development of innovative business models. These have enabled entrepreneurs to lower the cost of starting up and increase the odds of success, by making the most of existing resources and space and tapping into technological opportunities.

Examples from the report include how start-ups are setting up supper clubs in someone's front room, a pop-up in a disused high street shop or a street food stand, while at the same time using social media to draw diners to events and using crowdfunding as a new method for financing their ventures.

However, as the report outlines, for all the inspiring work done by food start-ups today on growing new food businesses, the UK has only just begun to realise the potential in food entrepreneurship and the contribution the food industry could have on economic growth.

A Steak in the Economy presents six ideas that could help realise this potential.

  • Boost food exports by appointing a credible British Food Envoy to represent artisanal British produce and food brands abroad
  • Get behind great British street food by lifting the legislative restrictions facing food markets (especially in London), and reserving at least 5% of market pitches for start-up food entrepreneurs
  • Open up underutilised kitchens and spaces in public and private sector buildings for pop-up restaurants and street markets
  • Put food entrepreneurship on the agenda in catering colleges
  • Develop a Food Strategy for local areas and incentivise property developers to support new food markets by amending the planning system regulations
  • Get capital flowing by simplifying the rules facing food businesses

With the right support in place and changes to regulation, there is the opportunity for food to contribute as many as 25,000 further new jobs a year and contribute an additional £500m to the economy.

At Nesta we hope this report will give food start-ups insights on how to have a cheap and low risk first go at starting their own food business and policymakers from central and local government ideas on how best to support a new generation of food entrepreneurs.

This will be the first in a series of blogs where Nesta and Kitchenette will be exploring the opportunities to support food entrepreneurship.

Author

Peter Baeck

Peter Baeck

Peter Baeck

Head of Collaborative Economy Research

Peter focuses on the collaborative economy, crowdfunding, P2P lending and the role of digital technolgies in public and social innovation. Peter lead much of Nesta's research into cr...

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