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ASU program preps small businesses for a big world

ASU's Prepped program provides aid for underserved minorities looking for the tools to maintain a successful business


ASU Prepped mentors, teachers and program graduates pose for a photo at the Prepped Showcase at the ASU SkySong Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018.

Running a restaurant is a notoriously difficult venture — with thin profit margins and rising labor costs, the industry presents a high barrier to entry, especially for minority entrepreneurs without access to a robust financial education.

But it's a high barrier that Prepped, a free, early-stage business accelerator, might help budding entrepreneurs cross. Designed to provide business-growth opportunities to underrepresented minorities and women, Prepped is working to turn local chefs into successful entrepreneurs.  

The program emerged from the collaboration of ASU Entrepreneurship + Innovation and the College of Nursing and Health Innovation in 2016. 

According to its website, Prepped aims to provide the necessary tools for small food businesses that are already established and looking to expand. The free 10-week course offers weekly classes and seminars that cover financial literacy, marketing strategies and other fundamentals needed to launch a business. 

Associate Vice President of the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development, Ji Mi Choi, is the founder and co-leader of Prepped.

Choi said her idea for the program aimed to alter the mainstream idea of what entrepreneurship means by giving everyone an equal opportunity to start their own business.

“Oftentimes people in the underrepresented minority community are overlooked when it comes to being identified as an entrepreneur or even having access to resources that are meant for entrepreneurs,” she said.

By focusing on minorities who are often not given the attention they deserve, Prepped aims to leave a positive impact on the community, Choi said.

“We looked at this tremendous segment of our community where incredible, innovative, passion-filled ideas were coming out and not necessarily having as much access to the coordinated services to help support their business,” she said.

Choi said Prepped is focused on redefining the stereotype that an entrepreneur must be a large, successful business owner and reminding small business owners that their work is important.

“There's nothing greater than meeting somebody that's kind of in your own line of business and your own kind of work where you understand each other's struggles, where you share tips,” she said. 

Natalie Morris, a Prepped coordinator said she is responsible for developing the program's curriculum and believes its mentorship program is a big selling point.

A local expert from the community is paired with each Prepped member to provide one-on-one guidance with any struggles they might have. 

 “That mentor has been carefully curated to be the type of person that not only is an expert in the food field, but they are also the type of person who has good pedagogical skills,” Morris said. 

Prepped aims to simplify the complicated process of starting a successful business by providing the means to get there.

“A big part of what we see happening in the community is that we're giving legs to these emerging businesses by way of giving them the tools they need to succeed,” Morris said.

Prepped graduate and co-owner of Pura Vida Grinds, Angela Vannett, received help from the program with things such as menu pricing and making connections with experts.

 “(Our mentor) was able to help answer a million questions," she said. "We had everything from where you buy an ice machine to how you make large batches of cold brew.” 

Vannett said that Prepped gave her the confidence she needed to quit her job and work full-time at PuraVida Grinds.

“I was just kind of uncertain about taking the plunge and going in full on my business and (Prepped was) able to reassure me that this is something that can be done,” she said. "They gave me the confidence that I needed to quit my job and really make the push to work fully on our business.”

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