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Feeding Innovation

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A mobile farmers market, a reclaimed foods store, a food box distribution program and farm-to-school produce. These are a few of the business ideas that have been a part of South Carolina Community Loan Fund’s (SCCLF) Feeding Innovation, an eight-week training program for aspiring entrepreneurs working on healthy food businesses. The program aims to increase access to healthy food in food deserts and underserved areas of South Carolina.

“It is a way to help people who have a passion for their community and a passion for increasing access to healthy food put pen to paper and come up with a good, sustainable business model to address that issue,” said Anna Lewin, CEO of SCCLF.

Clemson University Extension facilitates the courses, which cover accounting, marketing, negotiation skills, pitching and more. Participants develop and refine their business plans and present them to a panel of judges during a final pitch event. The winning entrepreneur receives $12,500 in seed capital.

After unsuccessfully pursuing traditional financing options, Tim Waters participated in and won the Florence session of Feeding Innovation. For years, his goal had been to bring a grocery store to the North Dargan Street community in Florence.

The program offered Waters the knowledge he needed to fine-tune his business plan, and his fellow participants became an invaluable network of entrepreneurs supporting each other. “I call each one of them for advice,” Waters said. “It created this sense of ‘you’re never in business alone.’”

The grocery store is currently under construction with an opening date scheduled for February 2020. Because Waters’ store will be a limited assortment supermarket, he can offer foods at lower prices, which will allow neighborhood residents to stretch their SNAP benefits. He also plans to offer classes to teach people how to shop for and cook healthy foods.

SCCLF has hosted Feeding Innovation in nine rural communities, served 85 entrepreneurs, supported the completion of 63 healthy food business plans and affected nearly 47,000 low-income residents of South Carolina.

Support from the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation will expand the program to additional communities and enhance the services offered to participants. SCCLF also plans to improve data collection and program evaluation methods to help shape future programming.