Life has been pretty sweet for Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya. His yogurt company has grown at breakneck speed, from $3 million in revenues in 2007 to over $1 billion in 2012. It also built the largest factory of its type in Idaho and sponsored the U.S. Olympic team.
Now things are about to get even sweeter as Ulukaya launches Chobani's first food incubator in New York City next spring. "This has been on my mind for some time," he tells Inc. "We have learned a lot about the space, about the food, and we've proved our model works. The founding mission we had was better food for more people--why does yogurt have to be exclusive?"
Similar to other corporate-sponsored incubators, Chobani's six-month program will offer office space and contacts with prospective clients, and allocate up to $2 million in early-stage investment for the entire first cohort of about 10 companies. The program, which is slated to launch next March, will also focus on branding, pricing, and positioning--all of which are "extremely important" for food startups, Ulukaya says, particularly those keen on following in Chobani's charmed footsteps. "For someone who's starting out and wants to do what Chobani's done and go through retail, these are some of the strategic decisions that are extremely important."
If a startup happens to have those things down, Ulukaya will then make sure its product appeals to mainstream consumers, much in the way Chobani has. "This is what the kitchen table, the community table is all about," he says of making natural, tasty, affordable food for the masses. "Some of the [issues with obtaining this food] is that it's a lifestyle, but a majority of it is also availability, and if it is available, it's not affordable. We can start from a better position and make it better as we go."
Ulukaya plans to mentor the companies himself, which will include early-stage food, beverage, and delivery system startups--really "anything related to food," he says. A new webpage urges entrepreneurs to apply; the class will be announced in coming weeks. At the New York headquarters, Ulukaya says entrepreneurs will have access to marketing, distribution, and other resources. "I, myself, will spend a lot of time with them," he adds.