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"Back to school" for Boston food and beverage entrepreneurs

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Next Thursday, March 27, beverage industry leader BevNET will host its inaugural Food and Beverage University in Boston. This Examiner caught up with Editor Jeff Klineman to hear about FBU and BevNET’s expansion from strictly covering the beverage world (they have a vertical called BrewBound, which covers craft beer) into writing about and assisting food entrepreneurs as well.

Examiner: So what is Food and Beverage University all about?

Klineman: It’s about introducing new and early-stage food and beverage entrepreneurs and hires to some of the hard knowledge and critical thinking skills they’ll need to navigate key decision points. For different brands and companies, and product types, the answers to these problems will always be individualized, but there are more similarities than differences in many situations, so FBU is about exposing these entrepreneurs to ways that others have tackled similar problems.

Examiner: This used to be called Beverage School, right?

Klineman: That’s right. Beverage School is something we started in 2009 as a one-day event geared toward early-stage beverage entrepreneurs, with an eye toward getting them used to the nuts and bolts of growing a beverage business. We realized the speakers at our one-day program had such a rich base of knowledge that we launched an online education component in 2011. Since then, we’ve seen similar challenges for both food and beverage companies in terms of investment, growth, distribution and branding issues, so we’re now expanding to serve food entrepreneurs as well.

Examiner: Why would a food entrepreneur want to come to FBU?

Klineman: Many entrepreneurs may be able to move from “homemade” to local commercial kitchen with relative ease. But there’s a long road from there to building a scalable, sustainable business. Making a long-term strategic decision about a co-packer or a distributor is not always intuitive, but it’s critical. Our experience lies in this part of the growth cycle: setting up for smart scale.

Duplicating someone else’s playbook does not guarantee success. And in fact, many who’ve tried to mimic past successes have failed. Many of the ones who said, “I’m going to do it this way again” have become the famous flops. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be gleaned. Comparative experience is invaluable.

Examiner: Your online content focuses on best practices. So where’s the value in being at FBU?

Klineman: We think our online offerings allow people to learn a lot in terms of defining the contours of the industry, but it’s hard to have a conversation online that spirals in the right direction. It’s hard to replicate rich interaction among fellow practitioners and category experts through a listserv. Having the opportunity to discuss cases and unearth best practices within a generative community of peers, mentors, and representatives of different industry stakeholder groups has tremendous value.

As I said, we’ve done live events for years and we’ve seen the results: deals have been done, hires made, and information shared in meaningful ways. There’s an alchemy that happens when you put a bunch of people in a room all focused on solving the problems of the entrepreneur.

Examiner: Who’s coming next Thursday?

Klineman: All in, we’ll probably see between 150-200 people. The majority will be new or early stage beverage and food entrepreneurs but there will also be distributors, investors, consultants and suppliers. Since we’re in Boston, we’re drawing strongly from New England, but not exclusively.

Examiner: Sounds awesome. Are you still taking registrations?

Klineman: Absolutely. We’ll be accepting new registrants until day-of.

To check out Food and Beverage University, click here. And if you’re already registered, this Examiner will see you there.

Wanna talk about it? Tweet me at @businessforfood.

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