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Q&A with Entrepreneur in Residence Melanie Neumann

slide with a headshot of Melanie Neumann and a quote from the story

Q&A with Entrepreneur in Residence Melanie Neumann

Rev: Ithaca Startup Works’ member companies are part of a network that gives them opportunities to connect and receive mentorship and guidance from Entrepreneurs in Residence with experience in a variety of fields. One of Rev’s new EIRs is Melanie Neumann, who has 25 years of experience in the food and ag industry. Most recently, Neumann was a mentor for one of the finalist teams for the Grow-NY competition. Neumann is a global food lawyer, executive coach, and thought leader in legal and regulatory compliance, food safety culture, and integrating food safety and legal compliance into corporate enterprise risk management programs.  

Why do you think Upstate-NY attracts entrepreneurs from a variety of industries?  

Upstate NY offers a diverse landscape of opportunities that are practically endless for entrepreneurs. This area offers renowned educational institutions, unique natural resources, and a growing trajectory of pioneering research resulting in innovative products and services in areas ranging from food, beverages, and agricultural technologies to computer hardware and software, among others.  

What is the best piece of advice you would give an up-and-coming entrepreneur?  

Know your Why. Then believe it and trust it, even when you want to quit. This sounds cliché, but launching a business from scratch is not for the faint of heart. Trust me, I have done it and experienced the ups and downs that occur. There will be tough days when you question why you started the endeavor in the first place. This is when your Why becomes mission critical—literally—as it may make the difference between throwing in the towel or committing to pushing through. Also, share your Why with others, so when you hit those bumps, others are there to help remind you why you started this quest. This is one of many reasons why being a part of a business incubator is so helpful. 

How has your experience shaped how you view entrepreneurship and the startup world?   

Confession. I upped and just quit my job one day. My very good, executive-level, well-paying job. I didn’t have another job lined up, or much of a plan, per se. But I did have an overwhelming belief that I was meant to do something different, in a different way, with different people, and in a different environment. After letting 5 minutes pass to let the fact I resigned sink in, I started taking action and haven’t let my foot off the gas pedal since. My experience taught me to have faith in myself and my ideas, and in others who share the same vision, and not to take no for an answer. If you believe in your idea and have established that there is a market– a need—then start making it happen right NOW—with eyes wide open that you may try, and you may fail. But that doesn’t mean you don’t try again. And again. And again. Inaction is the enemy of our dreams. 

What aspects of Food law and regulation are essential to understand when building a food business?    

Myriad laws and regulations impact food and ag companies. Some key, threshold, information should be clear at the outset to help an entrepreneur increase the odds of a successful launch, compliant with key applicable regulations. These aspects include understanding whether your product is a conventional food or dietary supplement, medical device or drug as this determines which regulations apply, whether you need pre-market approval to sell your product, and what types of claims can be made about the products on the label and in advertising. Another threshold criteria includes determining which federal, state, and local agencies govern your products so that you can comply with all registration, license, and/or permitting requirements. From here, it becomes much easier to determine what other requirements apply (e.g., determining if you need an FDA Food Safety Plan vs. USDA HACCP Plan, or both if you are dual regulated). In sum, there are a lot of moving parts and requirements that impact a food business. Partnering with experts at the beginning can ensure appropriate setup, which can save significant time and headaches in the long run.