- Veteran-founded companies J. Lee's Gourmet BBQ Sauce, Amore Congelato and Savor the Flavor have been selected as the Chobani Incubator's Veterans Cohort, a partnership between the Greek yogurt giant and Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), according to an email sent to Food Dive.
- These three companies will participate in a one-week program at Chobani's New York City offices next month. They will work with team members from the yogurt company to learn more about sales, marketing and innovation in the food space, and take advantage of entrepreneurship programs from IVMF.
- "Our new partnership with Chobani helps to make that dream a reality for veteran-owned businesses in the food industry by providing them with critical start-up environments that provide consulting, networking and administrative support — a big advantage early on in a business life cycle," Misty Fox, director of entrepreneurship at IVMF said in a statement.
Chobani, a company founded by a Turkish immigrant that revolutionized the yogurt space, is known for the way it pays forward its industry expertise and gratitude. The company has supported businesses owned by women, minorities and immigrants. It recently started selling a flavor to benefit dairy farmers. And last year, it launched a variety created by veterans that has raised $1 million so far to aid military families through Operation Homefront. Chobani also announced Thursday that it will continue donating 10 cents from each 4-pack of "Hero Batch, Red, White and Blueberry" to the organization.
The yogurt maker's incubator program was founded to help small companies with the potential to make a big difference in the food system. And the three chosen for this cohort fit in that category — as well as proudly share their veteran founding stories.
J. Lee's Gourmet BBQ Sauce uses an award-winning gluten and MSG-free sauce recipe that was perfected during founder James Lee's time serving active duty in the Army. The label features a picture of Lee in uniform. Amore Congelato was founded by Naval Reserve officer Thereasa Black, a single mother who hatched the idea for an all natural and healthier gelato company while she was deployed and separated from her young daughter. And Savor the Flavor is a family-owned company creating traditional Southern rice and grits mixes.
It makes sense that Chobani is sponsoring another initiative to help veterans. According to the IVMF, there are currently about 22.5 million veterans in the United States. Only 5.6% of veterans who have served since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have started their own businesses, according to a 2017 report from the veterans' support group. And according to statistics from Babson College, this is a little lower than the 6% of the general population who are entrepreneurs. But it's a lot lower than historic numbers for veterans. The IVMF says that 12.3% of veterans in 1996, and 49% of veterans after World War II, started their own businesses.
The veterans incubator cohort will utilize both the yogurt company's expertise as well as that of the IVMF, which was founded to help veterans transition to the workforce. The foundation has a entrepreneurship program of its own, which, according to its website, has worked with more than 120,000 veterans through more than a decade. Bringing Chobani's entrepreneurial knowhow together with a program designed to help veterans get their businesses off the ground could provide invaluable knowledge to the companies that are participating.
And even though this program is short, it could help these veterans get over some of the biggest hurdles they face in entrepreneurship. According to the IVMF, two of the top three impediments for veteran entrepreneurs are lack of networking opportunities and difficulty developing mentorships. Those two will be there, and the program is also likely to offer some direction to get around the top problem: lack of access to adequate financing.