Hands shot up when Will Culler asked Feeding Innovation participants who was excited to start working on their business plan during their first NxLevel class on Thursday night. Will, a Regional Agribusiness Development Agent with Clemson University Extension, began teaching courses on small business, food, and farming ten years ago. He currently teaches NxLevel courses throughout the state as part of South Carolina Community Loan Fund’s Feeding Innovation program.

Feeding Innovation is offered, free of charge, to entrepreneurs interested in developing or expanding healthy food businesses in underserved areas of South Carolina. The course covers everything from marketing to financial planning to deal making, and Will brings a different speaker in each week who has expertise on these topics. “The program is effective because it encourages collaboration,” Will explained. “It allows entrepreneurs to learn from and interact with the experts, as well as other budding entrepreneurs who are passionate about the same things.”

Will begins each class with business pitches, requiring all participants to stand up in front of the class one-by-one and explain their business idea in 30 seconds or less. These “elevator pitches” help the entrepreneurs refine their ideas and become more comfortable delivering them in front of an audience. They also give participants the opportunity to share their business ideas with one another and identify potential opportunities to collaborate.

“I’m really excited about the collaboration,” said Liz Perry, AmeriCorps VISTA with Partners for Active Living. This seemed to be a common feeling among participants as everyone who attended the first class stuck around for at least 45 minutes after it ended, networking and bouncing ideas off of each other.

Mike Fowler from South Street Produce Market agreed that he was excited about the networking opportunities the program provides but also added how impressed he was with the NxLevel course materials after completing their first homework assignment the week prior. “I couldn’t put the book down,” Mike told SCCLF, “I wish I had this 20 years ago when I started my first business.”

By the end of the eight week course, each participant will have a written business plan and be prepared to pitch that plan to a panel of judges. The students will deliver their pitches on April 28th and the entrepreneur with the strongest business plan will receive $12,500 in seed capital for their business. This Feeding Innovation pitch event will be open to the public.

Feeding Innovation is a comprehensive technical assistance program designed to support entrepreneurs interested in developing or expanding healthy food businesses in food deserts or underserved areas of the state. Click here for more information on Feeding Innovation Spartanburg and here for an example of a healthy food business previously funded by the Feeding Innovation program.