Prestigious award nurtures a promising startup sprout

James Jordan (centre) and Caroline Lepron accept the Foodbytes! judges' choice award with Sprout Kitchen intern Ian Cheng. Picture by Rosary Coloma

James Jordan (centre) and Caroline Lepron accept the Foodbytes! judges' choice award with Sprout Kitchen intern Ian Cheng. Picture by Rosary Coloma

In summary: 
  • Sprout Kitchen, a startup in the UTS accelerator Hatchery+ which rents out underutilised café and restaurant kitchen space, has picked up the prestigious Foodbytes! Sydney Judges' Choice Award
  • Supported by Rabobank and awarded by the King and Queen of Netherlands, the initiative supports small, innovative startups with a view to driving GDP 

Before he pitched to the King and Queen of the Netherlands, a panel of seven experts in business and agriculture and a full auditorium at Sydney's Cockatoo Island, James Jordan told Sprout Kitchen cofounder Caroline Lepron they didn't stand a chance.

After all, the nine other teams were agriculture technology startups and the majority of the audience farmers. "I just thought Sprout Kitchen would be too consumer focussed," he said.

In the end Sprout Kitchen, a participant in the UTS accelerator Hatchery+, was singled out by the judges for its industry creativity, sustainable practices, growth potential and social innovation in the FoodBytes! pitch competition, held last week as part of Rabobank's Farm2Fork Summit in Sydney. Established in the United States in 2015, this was the first FoodBytes! event to be held in Australia.

What particularly appealed to the panel about the startup, which Jordon and Lepron describe as Airbnb for the food and beverage industry, was the huge potential for the sharing economy. "We're seeing it everywhere at the moment," says Jordan, "but the food and beverage industry has been slow to innovate."

In his pitch Jordan pointed out that it can cost $300,000 to fit out a new commercial kitchen. In Australia, $2 billion a year is spent on kitchen rentals and $60 billion globally.

Many small artisan cooks have been trying to break into the market, they reach an impasse because the law does not allow them to sell food prepared at home, he says. "If someone bakes the best muffins, or whatever their food dream is, Sprout Kitchen can help them realise it."

In fact, it was this issue of access to kitchen space that brought UTS Business School student, Jordan, and UTS Business School graduate Lepron together. Jordan was running an on-demand food delivery business in which he sourced and rented local kitchens and delivered food locally. Seeing the potential of renting out spaces he decided to do away with the catering component.

Lepron on the other hand had reluctantly walked away from a business because she couldn't secure kitchen space. When she met Jordan through a startup event, she immediately saw the possibilities of his venture. The two joined forces.

Sprout Kitchen currently has 45 kitchens signed up and has partnered with take-away delivery company Deliveroo to help it access local kitchens.

Sprout Kitchen provides cooks with insurance and security and takes a 15 per cent cut for brokering the space. It ensures all operators have food safety certificates and their details are registered.

The FoodBytes! Award includes a six-month program with McCarthy mentoring. "It also, importantly gives us validation," says Jordan. Most importantly of all, is the interest they received from investors directly after pitching. "We're currently raising and will be meeting with them over the next few weeks and are pretty confident about securing a deal," said Jordan.

In the meantime they'll be finishing their stint in the Hatchery+ program and preparing to pitch to more investors on the upcoming Demo Day. "The Hatchery+ community and mentors have been really helpful for us," says Jordan. "It can be pretty lonely being an entrepreneur but knowing the other teams are there in the space is motivating. The mentors have given us a lot of good advice about scaling the business and leveraging its potential."

The pair have big plans for Sprout Kitchen and hope to expand it further to include renting out spaces for catered events and cooking classes. "There are just so many possibilities," says Lepron.