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How Business Incubation Can Facilitate Symbiosis

Research led by Dr. Weslynne Ashton, IIT Stuart School of Business, in partnership with Plant Chicago.

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While The Plant is not set up as a traditional incubator, with an application process, investor agreements and business coaching, much of what goes on in the building fits the definition of a business incubator. For example, the co-location of food-related small businesses, has an automatic networking benefit to building tenants. Tenants share customers and often participate in eachother’s supply chains. On any given day you may find that your Pleasant House focaccia bread is topped with veggies from the outdoor farm, that your Whiner beer contains fruity flavors from Urban Canopy, or that your Arize kombucha contains saffron from Rumi Spice – and many more combinations!

Plant Chicago’s farmer’s market plays a strong incubator role, not only for Plant tenants but for small food producers based on the South Side, such as Temo’s Tamales and Quarter Mile hot sauce.  And Plant Chicago interns and academic partnerships have yielded innovative ways for Plant tenants to better manage their byproducts, reducing the (ecologically) costly act of landfilling. See the Material Flow Analysis and Bio-brick case studies as examples.

The Plant’s model of business incubation – based on fostering innovation among a network of small, co-located food business – is the topic of an academic poster, presented at the 8th biennial conference of the International Society for Industrial Ecology (ISIE). This mini-study, led by Professor Weslynne Ashton, is entitled “The Plant: industrial symbiosis as a business model for incubating sustainable urban agriculture.”

The study outlines The Plant’s “value proposition for social impact” and the attributes that support it. Community is mentioned as a particularly important aspect of the variety of business incubation that occurs here: “The Plant has been successful in attracting many volunteers and like‐minded business people to its facilities, who have created a vibrant community for local food sustainability.”


Ashton, W.S., S. Balasubramanian, B. Davis, J. Wan, J. Mulrow, and K. Cordero. 2015. The Plant: industrial symbiosis as a business incubation model for sustainable urban agriculture. Poster presented at: 8th Biennial Conference of the International Society for Industrial Ecology; 2015 July; Surrey, UK.


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