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Food Forward

Startup Tucson's Food Business


About this Program:

Whether you're an aspiring food entrepreneur or already selling, our Food Forward Pre-Accelerator is here to guide you through the challenges of starting and growing your food business.

With a focus on building strong business foundations, fostering a supportive community, and connecting you with qualified experts and valuable resources, Food Forward can help you start and grow your food business. 

Fall 2024 COHORT:


Throughout the program, you will:

  • Refine your business model and develop a strategic roadmap for success

  • Hone your pitching skills to effectively communicate the value of your food product

  • Identify and target your ideal customers while highlighting the unique qualities that set you apart

  • Benefit from access to a diverse group of industry mentors, providing valuable input and guidance tailored to your specific needs

  • Showcase your product in front of your supporters and the larger food ecosystem

Valued at over $5,000, thanks to Startup Tucson's supporters, this 10-week pre-accelerator program is available for a low program fee of $150 and will equip you with the essential tools you need to take your business to the next level. 

Spring Semester dates

Accelerated Fundamentals (required)

Saturday, March 16th | 9:00am-5:00pm


March 28th (Kickoff Thursday) &

April 2nd - May 14th (Weekly on Tuesdays)


Final Showcase

Thursday, May 16th | 5:00pm-8:00pm

To celebrate the continued success of our 6th Round of Food Forward our Spring Cohort will include entry to our Accelerated Fundamentals on March 16th and all Spring Cohort graduates will be eligible to compete for a total of

Thank you to the Firestarter Grant Program from Groundswell Capital for making these special opportunities possible. 

"This class truly changed my life and the direction my business was going in!!! I can never truly repay you guys for what I learned. I loved it so much my best friend is now taking it!" - Erisha G.

what's on the agenda?

March 16 (Sat): Foundation Bootcamp: Fundamentals

Before we get started with the deep dive into all things creative entrepreneurship, our all-day Fundamentals workshop will teach you essential tools and insights for early-stage entrepreneurship. In this workshop we will cover the lean business model canvas, business models and finance, market discovery, customer discovery, validating your idea, and you'll walk away with a refined business pitch. Click here to learn more about Accelerated Fundamentals.

March 28 (Thurs): Introductions, Fundamentals Recap, Sales Channels & Product Development

In the first week, participants will be introduced to the program and have the opportunity to meet fellow entrepreneurs. This will be a chance for attendees to revisit their homework from Fundamentals and we'll dive deep into sales channels. You'll also use this first class to review your goals for your business and the program with a focus on your strengths and areas you want to improve. This session also uncovers the essentials of product development, guiding you through the iterative process of crafting a product that not only resonates with your brand but satisfies the appetite of your target market.

April 2 (Tues): Continuation of Product Development, Finding your First Customers, and Pricing

This session builds on product development, introducing strategies to attract and retain your initial customer base. We will also tackle the essentials of pricing, balancing cost with consumer value to ensure your product is competitively positioned in the market. Engage in practical discussions that will prepare you to make informed decisions about customer engagement and product profitability.

April 9 (Tues): Building Your First Budget, Understanding Your True Costs/Expenses, Profitability

In this session, we'll guide you through the process of constructing your first budget, a crucial step towards financial clarity. You'll gain insight into identifying and categorizing your true costs and expenses, enabling you to forecast your business's profitability accurately. Equip yourself with the financial understanding necessary to build a sustainable food enterprise.

April 16 (Tues): Mentor Fair

Connect with seasoned food industry professionals and like-minded entrepreneurs at our mentor fair. Engage in meaningful discussions, receive personalized advice, and start building relationships in the Tucson food ecosystem This session is your chance to ask the burning questions and find a mentor who can help your food venture thrive.


April 23 (Tues): Branding and Marketing in the Food Industry

This session is dedicated to the pillars of branding and marketing within the food sector, where you'll learn to craft a brand identity that resonates with your audience and differentiates your products in the marketplace. We'll also explore effective marketing strategies that connect with customers and amplify your presence in the food industry.

April 30 (Tues): Food Science & Safety

Join us for a session where experts from the University of Arizona's food nutrition labeling and food safety testing lab will provide essential knowledge on food science and safety protocols. Understand the critical importance of accurate nutrition labeling and rigorous safety standards to ensure compliance and consumer trust in your food products. This expert-led discussion will equip you with the scientific and practical expertise necessary for maintaining the highest quality in your food business.

May 7 (Tues): Permits & Licensing, Commercial Kitchens & Other Legal Business Considerations

Gain valuable insights as representatives from the Pima County Health Department and a commercial kitchen expert discuss the intricacies of permits, licensing, and the utilization of commercial kitchens. This session will cover the legalities and operational considerations critical to running a compliant food business. Learn the steps to secure the right permits, choose suitable kitchen spaces, and understand the legal framework that underpins your culinary venture.

May 14 (Tues): Growth & Scaling - Sourcing, Supply Chain Management, and Funding

This session addresses the pivotal growth phase of your food business, focusing on optimizing sourcing and supply chain management for expansion. Accompanied by insights from the CEO of Community Investment Corporation, you'll explore various funding avenues to fuel your scaling efforts. Discover practical strategies to streamline your operations and financial support to propel your business forward.


May 16 (Thurs): Taste of Tucson Showcase & Graduation

The program will culminate in the Taste of Tucson Showcase, where participants will showcase their food products to a diverse audience from the local food community. Attendees will have the chance to sample and appreciate the innovative creations of our talented entrepreneurs.


"Recipes for Success was an awesome experience for us... participating really helped us accelerate our business from idea to reality." - Tahamara B.

Agenda R4S
why should I attend?

Whether you're an aspiring food entrepreneur with a delectable product idea or already selling, Food Forward is the transformative program that will guide you step by step towards building a thriving food business. Through expert instruction and engaging activities, this 10-week program will equip you with the knowledge and skills to complete your lean canvas and set your food business on the path to success.

One of the most valuable aspects of the program is the Taste of Tucson Showcase, where you will present your food product and knowledge you have gained throughout the program to the Tucson food ecosystem. Additionally, the collaborative nature of the program means that you'll be provided with invaluable feedback and work on your product in an environment rich for idea sharing. With two dedicated opportunities to pitch your food product and receive mentor feedback, you'll also gain valuable experience in articulating your concept.

What will I learn?

  • Gain a deep understanding of your target customers, competition, and the market, ensuring that your food business effectively addresses real problems and stands out from the crowd.

  • Learn how to design low-cost experiments to test new ideas, allowing you to iterate and improve your product based on customer feedback.

  • Develop confidence and proficiency in presenting your food product to others, delivering compelling pitches that captivate potential customers and investors.

  • Implement real-time feedback from experienced mentors, refining your business strategy and enhancing the market potential of your food product.

You'll walk away with:

  • Snapshot version of your business plan

  • Planning checklist to help you determine tangible next steps

  • Customer interviewing script to help you design better solutions

  • Various tools, such as our pricing worksheet, to help you make better business decisions

This workshop is great for:

  • Aspiring food entrepreneurs who are eager to turn their food product into a successful business

  • Existing food business owners seeking to refine their strategies, expand their network, and gain exposure within the Tucson food ecosystem

Similar programs in other cities or offered by organizations would cost $5,000 or more for the amount of training and mentor hours received. Startup Tucson is proud to bring our program to the community with minimal program fees thanks to our supporters and volunteer mentors and experts.

Still not sure? Check out some of our Food Forward Graduates and see what they've been able to accomplish with help from this program. 

"The Recipes for Success program was a game changer for me. It taught me the skills to bring an idea that I had for a Start Up to a reality. Prior to the class, this was more of a dream. Now it's kind of scary, but I feel like I can move forward and take my passion for cooking healthy food to the next level. The anxiety I had felt is turning more into excitement!" - Elysa M.

Get Started


The cohort will take place over 10 weeks in person at FORGE at Roy Place and Startup Tucson's Offices in Downtown, Tucson.

  • Foundational Bootcamp: Accelerated Fundamentals (included & required)

    • March 16th (Saturday) - 9:00am-5:00pm

      • You'll join our Canvas Creative Cohort participants as well as other entrepreneurs for a full day of business fundamentals to set you up for success before the 1st day of class. This is the only Saturday commitment of the course.​

  • Weekly Classes - 5:00pm-7:00pm

    • Kickoff Thursday Class - March 28th

    • Weekly Tuesday Classes April 2nd - May 14th

  • Final Showcase

    • Thursday, May 16th | 5:00pm-8:00pm


Upon acceptance, the following participation requirements will apply:

  • You must be have your food product ready for sampling at the end of the 10 weeks for the Taste of Tucson Showcase (for example, if you offer a seasonal product, it must be available for sampling by the showcase)

  • You must commit to attending 90% of sessions in-person. Participants are only allowed to miss one class to be eligible for graduation.

  • You must commit to all onboarding and post-graduation surveys to ensure Startup Tucson can meet all reporting requirements. 


A course fee of $150 is required for each participating company. This course fee includes participation in the mandatory Accelerated Fundamentals pre-class ($60 normally) as well participation in the Showcase, enabling eligibility for over $5,000 in prizes and awards. This fee also includes a year of follow-up business planning with Startup Tucson. In total, these components and this cohort are valued at over $5,000 but thanks to Startup Tucson's many supporters and sponsors, we can bring these programs to the community at this subsidized cost. 


Once we receive your application, we will schedule a brief interview to ensure the program is a good fit for your business. In order to facilitate interactive sessions, one-on-one coaching, and an enriching Taste of Tucson Showcase, the course is limited to 15 companies and offered in-person only.


To be considered for the Food Forward accelerator you must:

  • Live and/or sell your food product in Southern Arizona

  • Have your recipe refined and ready to sell (we will not assist in recipe development)

  • Have a value added food product (this program is not designed for restaurants or farmers)

Please note: Due to the limited number of seats available, we encourage you to fill out the application thoughtfully and completely. We look forward to welcoming you to our in-person sessions held at the Startup Tucson offices in Downtown Tucson.

Still have questions? For more information email!

Applicants will be accepted on a rolling basis. Because there are only 15 spots we recommend filling out the application as early as possible. Applicants who submit their applications after all of the seats have been filled will be put on a waiting list for the next cohort. Applications will close at 11:59pm on Sunday, March 3rd. 

"The program was incredible and I believe that it provided me with everything I needed to my start-up off the ground." - Mikey B.

Spring 2023 cohort
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