“Culinary Conversations: Bootstrap Your Business” Speakers Discuss How to Make a Food Startup Successful

On November 6, Culinary Conversations returns to the Grand Rapids Downtown Market with a MeetUp panel discussion for food entrepreneurs. “Bootstrapping Your Business” takes place November 6 from 5-7:30 p.m. at Start Garden, located on the second floor of 40 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids. The free event features four successful industry entrepreneurs and experts, discussing strategies to access capital and funding to make startups work on a tight budget.

Speakers for “Bootstrap your Business” include Jorge Gonzalez, director of programs and space at Start Garden; Hannah Raycraft, founder of Spera Foods; and Brian Lai and Kristine Yang, founders of The Only Bean. Dean Sinclair, founder and CEO of CPG Farms, will moderate.

“West Michigan has such a thriving food startup community already, and our goal is to continue to grow and nourish those ideas right here in our community,” said Mimi Fritz, Downtown Market president and CEO. “Starting a food business may seem intimidating, but it’s absolutely possible with a good idea, passion for the project and the right guidance.”

Culinary Conversations is a peer-to-peer collaboration and networking group for West Michigan’s food industry professionals, including growers, producers, chefs, bartenders, restaurant owners, entrepreneurs and others, intended to strengthen Grand Rapids’ regional food system.

“This event is an great opportunity for food entrepreneurs to learn from people who have navigated the food startup process, said Laurie Supinski, Start Garden program manager. “Jorge and the startup panelists will share their strategies to grow an idea into a business, on a budget and what resources can help along the way.”

Led by the Downtown Market, Culinary Conversations is a unique partnership between Start Garden, GROW and Michigan State University Extension. Each MeetUp includes networking and educational opportunities.  Link to register for the event is online at:

Schedule of Events: 

5:00pm: Networking

5:30pm: Panel Discussion with Jorge Gonzalez, Brian Lai, Hannah Raycraft, and Kristine Yang. Moderated by Dean Sinclair.

6:30pm: Networking

Panelist bios:

Jorge Gonzalez, Director of Programs and Space at Start Garden, is a Grand Rapidian holding a degree in Public Administration and minors in both Business and Sociology from GVSU, Jorge joined the Start Garden team in 2017 from his 2 year term as Executive Director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Prior to that, he was at LINC UP as the Director of Economic Development for four years and has 15 years of experience in the banking industry. His last banking position was as VP of Community Development from 2005 to 2010.

Brian Lai, founder of The Only Bean, is a first generation Asian American who embraced the entrepreneurial spirit at an early age while helping his parents run their restaurant. He started his first business when he was 14 and after graduating from Michigan State, he spent his early career in marketing, sales, and branding. His families background in the food industry and his passion to build an impactful company led him to create The Only Bean, a plant-based food company using beans to create innovative food products that are sustainable, healthy, and delicious.

Hannah Raycraft, founder of Spera Foods, is very passionate about health and wellness and believes that we each influence our health by what we eat, and healthy, tasty food options are important for our well-being. Hannah has a hope and longing for change in this world’s diet and eating patterns. She believes change can come, and that even one food product like Spera Foods Tiger Nut products can aid in the process. This is why she chose Spera Foods as the name of the company, as ‘spera’ is simply Latin for hope.

Kristine Yang, founder of The Only Bean, grew up in Battle Creek, Michigan where she was surrounded by a family of food scientists. After graduating from Michigan State, she spent her early years in retail and international business while obtaining her MBA. Her experience in business and curiosity for innovative food products led her to create The Only Bean, a plant-based food company using beans to create innovative food products that are sustainable, healthy, and delicious.

About the Grand Rapids Downtown Market 

The Grand Rapids Downtown Market is the region’s new choice for fresh, delicious foods and amazing public market merchants. The Market is a $30 million, self-sustaining, LEED-certified, mixed-use facility that brings together production, distribution, marketing and education about local foods and growing. It incorporates entrepreneur and experimentation space for both emerging and experienced food artisans and merchants including a 24-vendor Market Hall and two full-service restaurants. More at