Creating Social Value Blog / Food

On the Axis of Inquiry: a Novel Approach to Evolving Your Food Business

Patrica Duffy with students

Patricia Duffy speaks to a group of food entrepreneurs at the Babson Food Day Quick Service Incubator


There are so many programs, publications, consultancies, incubators and accelerators purporting to answer the question: How do I explore, start, or grow my new food business?

There is no single solution. What you need depends on who you are, where you are, who you know, what you know, and the resources you have at hand.

Food Sol Senior Fellow Patricia Duffy, who has helmed Community Table New York for the past four years, served as a Guest Expert at a recent Food Sol Quick Service Incubator, part of 8th Babson Food Day.

She reflected to me recently:

“The key for entrepreneurs is connectivity, but as more groups and organizations emerge, it becomes increasingly difficult to decide where to devote limited, precious time. There are so many strong models already out there. I’d really love to see fewer from-scratch, new programs, platforms, offerings, and more effort toward collaboration to fuel what is already established.”

I couldn’t agree more. Increasing connectivity among existent hubs is core to Food Sol’s work.


Our signature Quick Service Incubator is not a full-stack solution (to borrow language from the omnipresent tech world), but a tool along the path for those exploring, starting or growing food ventures. It lasts about an hour and includes consultants, lawyers, leaders, makers, students, academics, and hyper-aware consumers—aka the food business ecosystem.

We gather them all in one place, for one point in time, in order to serve six entrepreneurs with six real strategic questions. In essence, the food entrepreneurs get to converse with their markets in real time.

Bringing a question to the Incubator rewards the participating entrepreneur along two lines:

  1. Multi-faceted feedback on the business—in a fun, creative, casual, non-competitive context
  2. A unique opportunity to promote the business to a captivated and highly engaged audience


Most rocket pitches turn on the axis of competition. There are shiny slides, a slick story. It’s a show—with judges, a winner, and typically a prize.

The Quick Service Incubator turns on the axis of inquiry. The entrepreneur invites the audience into her world, asking them a real question that she wants to hear answers to. It’s an authentic offer to connect.

This act of asking is an incredibly powerful engagement strategy. The entrepreneur captures the full attention and imagination of the room, and taps the desire, inherent in all humans, to help. The food business professionals and engaged eaters in the audience show up and participate in the Quick Service Incubator like nowhere else. And the entrepreneurs receive gifts that no competition could provide.


“The generosity was overwhelming,” reflected Melissa Castro, MBA’19, who pitched La Conexion at Food Day. “So many people handed me their cards and said ‘Call me. I can help you.’ It took time to digest it all.”

“I’m primarily working alone,” added Melissa Martinelli of Superfrau, which manufactures out of Boston-based CommonWealth Kitchen. “So getting constructive feedback from both community members and experts in the food industry was extremely valuable.”

Linh Le, MBA’19, who works with a Vietnam-based macadamia nut processor said: “The best thing about it was how it attracted people from such diverse backgrounds. From experts with years of experience to other food entrepreneurs to potential customers, everyone seemed to understand the problem I’m facing, and they gave me practical advice.”

Zimmern and Castro

Andrew Zimmern listens intently to Melissa Castro as she clarifies her pitched question