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Conversations with Sheena Foster

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sheena Foster. 

Hi Sheena, so excited to have you on the platform. So, before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today.
In 2008, founder Lucy Dilley started the Can-Do Kitchen because she saw a growing demand for locally-made foods but a lack of space to legally produce them. The program was initiated much like the efforts of so many of the entrepreneurs that the organization now supports – with little money, a lot of grit, and the desire to build something new. The Can-Do Kitchen began as a tiny shared-use kitchen and grew into a food business incubator as it gradually got bigger, added more staff, and supported a growing number of food entrepreneurs. 

Through the years, we have evolved from a “community kitchen” to a food business incubator in response to learning that food producers lacked the business acumen needed and required support. We stepped in to fill that need and have been developing incubation support services ever since. When we began seeing the disparities in who was able to access our services, we started viewing our work through an anti-racist lens and began prioritizing equity (both internally and through our services and partnerships). 

After many conversations with community partners, Can-Do Kitchen decided to expand our work beyond only food businesses and take the lead on a mixed-use business incubator in Kalamazoo. Thus, Can-Do Kitchen became Can-Do Kalamazoo, a highly collaborative, strategic, one-stop incubator positioned to guide entrepreneurs through idea, launch, and growth. With this larger scope, we are supporting people on the many paths of their entrepreneurial journeys and have been developing a roadmap that provides an overview of the stages that entrepreneurs must take to launch and grow businesses. 

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There are many obstacles to people wanting to start and grow businesses including economic, language, legal, racial, knowledge, gender, and gender identity barriers. These barriers are most often faced by people who are marginalized in our society, leading to both lack of access to resources and internalized messaging that impacts self-confidence about pursuing entrepreneurialism. Much like entrepreneurs’ experience when starting their own businesses, Can-Do has had to pivot several times in the way we provide incubation services. Things at Can-Do Kalamazoo are always evolving and changing in response to member and community needs. We believe in continuous incremental improvements and strive to adapt to change, even when it challenges us. 

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar, what can you tell them about what you do?
One of the main roles I fill at Can-Do Kalamazoo is leading our 16-week business incubation course called Can-Do Camp. This course is designed to walk entrepreneurs through every crucial step of starting a business, from market research and branding to licensing and small business financials. Each cohort of entrepreneurs has the opportunity to build a support network with their peers and learn from local professionals. They receive essential resource guides, referrals, pricing tools, connections to local retailers, and much more. By the end of Can-Do Camp, entrepreneurs are much more ready to launch their businesses with solid foundations and a supportive network to lean on. 

I’ve worked alongside numerous entrepreneurs for 11 years, with a specialization in the food industry. My primary focus is to foster a nurturing learning environment that is approachable for all identities, especially those that are marginalized. I strive to meet people where they’re at and empower them to bring their ideas to fruition so they can create the lives they want. 

What were you like growing up?
I was very shy growing up, but I’ve always carried the desire to teach and support others. I learned to express myself through my love of music and theater and gained some insight into the power of living into my true self. I like seeing similar transformations in some of the entrepreneurs I work with. Their passion and excitement is what drives me to keep doing this work.

Pricing:

  • $400 per business to attend Can-Do Camp

Contact Info:


Image Credits

Can-Do Kalamazoo

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