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Photography contributed by Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce / Michael Robinson

When my business partners and I set out to open Proof Incubator last year, we never expected a pandemic.

We quickly anticipated the lasting impact the pandemic would have on our business and the food and beverage industry as a whole. We set out to build a specialty food and beverage resource center that rapidly evolved into a crucial program to support companies in the food and beverage space amidst a global pandemic — not just in Chattanooga, but across Tennessee and the Southeast.

While Proof operates a brick-and-mortar space for rotating restaurant concepts from local chefs, the key component of our offerings is programming. Faced with daunting health regulations, new guidelines, closures and uncertainty, restaurant operators were dealt a blow when the pandemic brought operations to a halt last March. We quickly tapped into our team's expertise and leaped into what we had anticipated as our phase two expansion as a business — we accelerated from just a business incubator to a complete support system.

 

Restaurant Recovery Across the State

With the support of business partners and support organizations, Proof rolled out a four-week Restaurant Recovery program last summer. Sponsored by community partners, operators face no costs and gain access to the timely help they need. We provide a weekly curriculum that guides operators through all components of business, from managing supply chain issues and cash flow, to pricing out menus, to health code updates. Operators get one-on-one coaching with our team members, who bring a collective 100 years of industry experience.

As we've seen through cohorts in Chattanooga and East Tennessee, the curriculum changes depending on new demands for operators. Long before the pandemic, Proof's goal was to support small business owners who face different challenges than corporations and may lack the ability to change course quickly and stabilize operations. That's where we come in. Our goal is to provide value and help businesses thrive.

Proof Incubator

Michael Robinson, co-founder of Proof, brings nearly two decades of experience in the food and beverage industry.

After growing and selling successful food ventures, Robinson shifted his focus to consumer goods products.

Today, he develops programs and curriculum for early-stage consumer goods and food and beverage companies.

Learn more at proofincubator.com.

While we've always planned for the expansion of our programming, the pandemic put Proof in a unique spot to grow quickly. Since our March 2020 opening, we've held courses in Chattanooga, Knoxville, the Tri-Cities area and Cookeville, customized to each market. Soon we'll launch another Knoxville course and plan to add North Georgia, Alabama, and Central and West Tennessee offerings to our lineup. This expansion wouldn't be possible without ecosystem-building organizations, like Small Business Development Centers and Chambers of Commerce, that help guide our offerings to the companies in their markets.

The pandemic has crippled food and beverage operators. Almost overnight, they faced huge disruptions, and many have adapted. Through our recovery course, we guide operators to take a closer look under the hood, and depending on their needs, we connect them with resources and solutions to stabilize and grow their businesses.

 

Consumer Goods Accelerator Still Thrives

Not all businesses are experiencing losses — we've seen operators determining how to maintain dramatic growth during the pandemic, either in meal prep services or consumer goods, and we continue to help these businesses plan for the future. Consumer goods product development remains one of our core offerings. This industry has experienced massive disruption in the last five years, and Proof runs these programs, in addition to Restaurant Recovery, to help smaller companies scale reach, navigate distribution channels and optimize online offerings.

When the Proof team isn't coaching, we're streamlining systems and platforms to provide more value to operators. We aim for strong relationships with operators and partners across the region. We want to fully deliver on our promise to add value — including the recovery program and Consumer Goods Accelerator.

Proof was created well before the pandemic; operators in the food and beverage industry have long needed resources beyond one-off entrepreneurship seminars. Each piece of our program was designed with operators in mind. While we can't be certain when the chaos of the pandemic will fade, Proof will continue to provide valuable offerings to support the ongoing needs of food and beverage operators.

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