Getting your business going and growing: StartUp Mendocino 2023 accepting applicants
by Carole Brodsky; Courtesy of the Ukiah Daily Journal (Oct 11, 2022)
The West Business Development Center (West Center) is accepting applications for StartUp Mendocino 2023. The no-cost program provides local entrepreneurs participation in an intensive training program – sparking new thinking about possibilities for their business, their community and the county economy.
According to West Center Marketing Director Alison de Grassi, participants build stronger and more lasting business and community connections, helping them become more self-sufficient and resilient.
“StartUp Mendocino 2023 builds upon West Center’s successful entrepreneurship program that began with a pitch competition in 2019 and continued with a business accelerator course in 2022. That program launched 13 early-stage entrepreneurs on their path to success. This year’s program offers the same format,” she continues.
StartUp Mendocino 2023 sponsors include Tri Counties Bank, Umpqua Bank Charitable Foundation, Savings Bank of Mendocino County, Redwood Credit Union, and the County of Mendocino.
Applications opened up on Oct. 3 and will close on Oct. 24, with the announcement of qualifying participants taking place on Nov. 23. Up to a dozen entrepreneurs will participate in the curriculum, receiving tools to make their businesses more efficient, effective, productive and profitable.
A committee composed of business and community leaders and stakeholders will select the participants. Applicants are chosen from all areas of the county and from a variety of businesses – retail, wholesale, transportation, hospitality and more.
To qualify to be a StartUp Mendocino participant, the business must be located in Mendocino County, and has to have been operational for between one and three years. At this time, the program is not available to cannabis-related businesses.
The 21-week program begins in January of 2023, with weekly virtual lessons every Tuesday beginning Jan. 16. “The program includes the participation of cohorts who provide participants with ongoing support, peer-to-peer networking and assistance following course completion,” de Grassi continues.
West Center provides participants with experts in marketing, financial planning, technology and goal setting. They will have access to community outreach, with planning departments, media contacts and local organizations. They study five separate business modules, including financial planning, time management, branding, best practices and pitching your business.
Lead instructor Rachel Clark notes, “Knowing that the future of your business is being worked on in the right way allows participants to dream bigger and do more. Mendocino County needs more of those kinds of leaders.”
Laura Brooks, StartUp Mendocino’s program director, stated, “I am so impressed by our 2022 participants. Seeing their progress gives us hope for the future of small business in Mendocino County.”
Some of the 2022 graduates applied to the California Dream Fund. One of those graduates, Ukiah native Adam Goldberg received a $10,000 grant to help grow his business, Mendo Grass.
Goldberg took a circuitous path to his successful sun-grown microgreens business.
A 1999 Ukiah High graduate, Goldberg left the area when he was 18 for about 15 years. After receiving his degree in Global International Studies from UC Santa Barbara, he traveled extensively through Latin America, Japan and Europe, working and studying abroad and eventually returning to the states to receive his master’s degree in International Education.
“I’d finished my Master in Malawi writing my capstone paper. To print one piece of paper cost 50 cents per page, so my parents visited and brought my second draft with them,” he smiles. “I had an internship at a permaculture demonstration center, doing organizational work and strategic planning, and got to be in the garden every day.” He decided to heed the call to return to California.
“I like the culture, the land and the people here, but didn’t know how I was going to employ myself. When I returned, I got a job at a Sonoma County nonprofit working in a cross-cultural student exchange program with students from the Bay Area, Nicaragua and Ecuador. Part of the program involved high school students working in a garden and reforestation program.”
From there, Goldberg worked at the Solar Living Institute’s Internship program, coordinating the solar courses. “There was a land manager there that sold wheat grass and greens to Ukiah Natural Foods. At that time, we only grew wheat grass. I recall thinking, ‘Wheat grass costs a dollar to produce and sells for $16. That seems like a good margin for a small business, and I was intrigued by the idea and the product.”
Goldberg left Real Goods to work on the Farm Relations team at the cannabis distribution center Flow Kana – another business that blended his administrative acumen with gardening. “We led METRC courses, accounting workshops, trainings and farmer support programs.”
When he left Flow Kana, Goldberg realized he now had an opportunity to start working on his personal dream – building his microgreens business.
“I’d had the experience growing wheat grass. My mother had passed away with cancer when I was at Flow Kana. She lived a rich life – dedicated to pursuing things she was interested in. That was the motivation I needed to jump out there. I wasn’t set on being an entrepreneur, though I was attracted to that lifestyle. But the microgreens business was an idea I really believed in, and I felt there was mileage there.”
“Prior to StartUp Mendocino, I was putting ideas to paper, conceptualizing the Mendo Grass name, getting the organic certification.” His first sale took place in February 2021. And despite the pandemic, Goldberg called 2021 “The Year of Microgreens,” affording him opportunities unique to the time.
“People became interested in their health. Everyone needed to eat. Home delivery became ubiquitous. Ukiah Natural Foods became a customer after trying my first tray of wheat grass. The amount of juice they were extracting was comparable to what they were getting before.”
Goldberg began growing other microgreens. “I started selling to Mariposa Market, family friends, through Facebook Marketplace and to a few restaurants.” He developed a unique approach to growing microgreens, which now included wheat grass and radish, pea shoots, sunflower, buckwheat and broccoli sprouts, growing them outdoors in a greenhouse – not the usual methodology.
“I went through one summer, adapted and went through a second summer to confirm I could grow consistent, high-quality products.”
Goldberg began his relationship with West Center receiving guidance in constructing his greenhouse. “The advisors gave me great support, but accountability and scheduling are up to you. You learn by doing. Then I heard about the Start-Up program. I’d been in business for a year when I enrolled and had started selling at the Ukiah and Willits Farmers Markets. Everyone in my class was in different stages of business development. I was focusing on using the sun to grow these greens, and believed the sun was the differentiator of the microgreens being universally touted as a high-quality product. Today, I’m 18 months into it. I’m exiting the proof-of-concept phase and setting monthly sales targets and goals. I’ve become very clear about our brand identity and our products. I’m coalescing with the program and working on my business, not in my business.”
The StartUp program helped Goldberg revisit and finesse his business plan. “I’m stepping on the pedal and watching our business grow. I needed that time to be in the program to help create the space to learn and think.”
Goldberg sells mixes of his greens at the markets, as well as “kitty grass” and pea shoot pesto.
“We sell trays of wheat grass to juice bars and also sell juice at the markets. Our Kombucha/wheat grass/OJ mocktails are very popular, as well as the fact that we offer ‘live cuts’ at the markets. We now have a set of product categories beyond the wheat grass. Our product identity is quite clear. Now it’s about building capacity and bringing the business out to the world. Our goal is to attend Farmers Markets, build community presence, interact with the public and springboard into more Business-to-Business relationships.”
He’s beginning Farmers Market sales in Healdsburg, applied in Sebastopol and is selling to Big John’s Market in Healdsburg. “We’re making $5,000 monthly just from Ukiah and Willits. I’m going to be spending more time on the ground, walking into restaurants and bringing samples of our product to prospective customers.”
In 2023, Goldberg envisions expanded collaboration with the Namaste Café. “We have a liaison to Bottle Rock. The only limiting factor is us. My wife is involved with marketing, design and product development, and we have an intern who just arrived. We’ll have more recipes to hand out and information cards for people new to microgreens.”
Because of his hours working with StartUp Mendocino, Goldberg qualified to apply to the California Dream Fund grant and was awarded $10,000, which he used to build a new climate-controlled structure and purchase additional supplies for the business.
“It’s a grand adventure. I get to spend time with my family and drink shots of wheatgrass whenever I want. The StartUp program helped us elevate ambition with practical tools and information,” he concludes.
“We’re growing our economy together, one creative, courageous small business at a time,” Brooks concludes.
Visit https://www.westcenter.org/programs/startup-mendo-2023 to learn more about the program or contact Laura Brooks, firstname.lastname@example.org.