Meet Benjamin McMenamin. Founder of The Social Food Project, a social enterprise with a focus on sustainable food and education. Ben’s passion for sustainability, education and food systems has led him to start The Social Food Project, to empower change in local communities through projects, events and research. This is his entrepreneurial story.
Tell us a bit about The Social Food Project?
In a nutshell, the Social Food Project (SFP) is all about promoting sustainability through food. I have always believed that we get real change through proper engagement so I wanted to start something that really pulls people together. Most of the work I do with SFP is event based; community dinners, cooking workshops, farm tours etc. I feel the best way to get people motivated is to get them involved and to learn by doing.
Was there a catalyst for you to create a social enterprise within the food sector?
I am a chef by trade and it got to the point in my career where I wanted to start ‘using my skills for good’ so to speak. I have always been passionate about food, both growing and cooking food, and so it made sense for me to start something in this sector. I have gone with a social enterprise model because it takes the focus away from using income as a measure of success and takes a more holistic approach. For example, even if an event only just breaks even financially, if I have contributed to better social outcomes and expanded my networks I would see that as a win.
Who is the most inspiring person that you have worked with and why?
I feel quite lucky to be working with a range of really inspiring individuals; the sustainability sector seems to attract great people! One particularly inspiring person is Tammi Jonas, a small-scale pork-farmer from Victoria. She is an amazing spokesperson for local producers and presents regularly at events and conferences promoting food sovereignty and regional economies – all while maintaining a working farm!
What lessons have you learnt so far on your business journey?
I have learnt to not put all of my eggs in one basket (excuse the food pun). I have found it best for me to build SFP while continuing to work in the industry. This helps to keep my finger on the pulse, stay connected with potential collaborators and inspires innovation in my own enterprise. Having multiple incomes also creates more financial resilience when you get slow weeks in the business.
What are three tips that you could offer to other entrepreneurs wanting to start their own business?
- Just do something! I sat on this idea for a long while, waiting for the ‘right time’ to come up, but it never really did. In the end I just decided to go for it and it has turned out well.
- Be flexible with your concept. I found myself getting attached to ideals and what I thought people might want in this space. When I started letting go of what I thought people wanted and actually giving people what they want, things started expanding really quickly. I know this might sound obvious, but it is often easy to be blind to improvements, especially when it is your baby!
- Get a mentor. There are so many amazing people out there that have gone through all of this stuff before – connect with them! I would also recommend getting a mentor outside of the specific field or discipline you want to start your business, this will give greater insight into your ideas.