Jess Daniel

Former Executive Director, FoodLab Detroit

Somerville, MA

Act Local First, Prioritize Equity, Regenerate Soil & Nature  |  Community Economic Development, Food and Agriculture, Incubator / Accelerator, Technical Assistance

Jess has built and now studies social networks, entrepreneurship, and sustainable food systems.

Jess Daniel is currently a PhD Candidate in Community Sustainability at Michigan State University where she studies social networks, entrepreneurship, and sustainable food systems. She is also a part-time consultant to BALLE. Her work is grounded in the belief that all individuals, groups, and communities have hidden gifts, inherent wisdom, and capacity for leadership and creativity. Her life is an experiment in how to enable herself and others to use their gifts in joyful, practical, loving ways in service to a more just and resilient world.

In 2010, Jess founded FoodLab Detroit, a growing community of food businesses who want to help make ‘good food’ a reality for all Detroiters. She served as Executive Director and “Chief Enabler” until 2015 when she left to complete her dissertation, which draws on her experience with this exceptional group of entrepreneurs. During this time, she grew the organization from a small informal meeting around her kitchen table into a non-profit organization with over 190 members and a solid reputation for effective and thoughtful programming, and for bringing together diverse groups in a city that’s often divided.

Prior to FoodLab, Jess practiced her role as an enabler in a variety of contexts: as COO for an 80-person education start-up; as a marketing manager at Google; developing programs for NGOs in Cambodia; processing chickens on a small bio-intensive farm; organizing briefings for congressional committee staff for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition; and inventing and convening 200+ participants for a 3-day think / do tank on regional food systems innovation called Making Good Food Work. She has a BA in English and a Master’s degree in Education from Stanford University and currently lives in Somerville, MA with her partner. When not working, you can usually find Jess climbing, running, on her yoga mat, or exploring the outdoors.

Impact

  • Grew FoodLab from an informal meeting of 10 entrepreneurs around her kitchen table to a network of over 190 diverse good food businesses in Detroit.
  • Designed and launched Detroit Kitchen Connect, a network of shared-use kitchens across the city to provide access to low-risk, low-cost kitchen space for start-ups.
  • Over the past five years, programs like the BASE 12-week workshop series, monthly Food for Thought meetings, weekly office hours, and the FoodLab annual check-up have helped hundreds of local food entrepreneurs to hone their business visions, learn about “triple-bottom-line” accounting, build community, and connect to a broader ecosystem of resources and good food movement activity.
  • As part of her dissertation research, conducted a social network survey that demonstrates how relationships made through FoodLab have impacted local food entrepreneurs, in particular entrepreneurs of color.

Media