At some point in science class, most kids learn that fertilized bird eggs can be hatched in an incubator. The heated machine warms an egg until the baby bird inside hatches. It's then nurtured until it's able to be on its own. Of course more than eggs benefit from incubators, and the concept has moved into the business world. Now there are organizations that exist to help hatch and nurture new businesses until they are ready to stand on their own. 

One type of business incubator is a food incubator, also known as a culinary or kitchen incubator. When a food entrepreneur has a serious desire to start a new business, like a catering start-up or an artisanal bread company, a kitchen incubator can help them get started until they have enough money and experience to fly the coop and have their own space.

For other types of business start-ups, an incubator space might have desks, computers, copy machines and conference rooms. A food incubator usually takes the form of a communal kitchen. What all business incubators have in common are mentors and business experts who are there to nurture the new start-ups and connect their owners to the people and resources they need to make their business successful. 

Union Kitchen in Washington, D.C. is one of about 150 food incubators across the country, and it has more than 50 small food start-ups sharing its communal space.

The food start-ups that rent space at Union Kitchen, according to a "CBS This Morning" story, get benefits from the food incubator that they wouldn't have if they started out on their own.
  • Low rent
  • A staff that helps with everything from distribution to bookkeeping
  • Learning from other food entrepreneurs
  • An in-house graphic artist for help with packaging
  • Events where the food start-ups can show their products
  • Friendships
These are all benefits that a new business renting commercial kitchen space on its own would not get, benefits that could mean the difference between success and failure. 

Sometimes food incubators are part of a bigger business plan, like the West Louisville FoodPort that's in the works in Kentucky. The kitchen incubator will be one part of an entire "food business park" that will also include a food truck plaza, edible gardens, an indoor urban farm, classrooms and educational space, a coffee roaster and more. 

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Food incubators hatch culinary businesses
Incubators nurture food-based start-ups until they're ready to fly the coop.