‘We’re Looking for Innovation’: Alum Tyler Florence to Oversee JWU Entrepreneurship Challenge

“Get those ideas on paper, because the difference between a dreamer and a visionary is execution.” It’s the kickoff event for JWU’s inaugural Future Food All-Stars Challenge, and Food Network star Tyler Florence '94, '04 Hon. is assuring students that he will not be looking for perfection when choosing the 10 student teams to take part in the “Shark Tank”-style competition. As the university’s first Food Entrepreneur in Residence, Chef Florence — and a team of entrepreneur-mentors, including JWU faculty — will spend the fall coaching the chosen teams to develop their most creative ideas into fleshed-out business concepts that will be pitched to investors.

“Develop the Muscle Memory to Be an Entrepreneur”

Florence brings nearly 25 years of experience as a Food Network star, competition judge, entrepreneur, restaurateur and media personality to the table, and he promises to support students through an incredible growth experience: “We’re looking for innovation and solid structure in a business model,” he explained. “I want to see the roots of a fantastic concept. … And we’ll be able to collaborate on these concepts and give you real time feedback and brush up your business creation skills. I want to develop your muscle memory to be an entrepreneur.”

“A business degree in hotel restaurant management gave me the ability to walk into any situation.”

In conversation with Dean Jason Evans of JWU’s College of Food Innovation & Technology (CFIT), Florence shared candid memories of his own formative years.

Chef Tyler Florence discussing the Future Food All-Stars Challenge with JWU Dean Jason Evans (not pictured).After he got his associate degree at JWU, he stuck around to get a bachelor’s degree — a move he credits with giving him a broader understanding of the numbers that can make (or break) a restaurant. “A business degree in hotel restaurant management … gave me the ability to kind of walk into any situation,” he said. “The financial forensics of what it takes to run a restaurant can put a restaurant out of business in 6 months. So [it’s important to understand] what your power is creatively, but then also giving you the tools and the credibility to be an entrepreneur.”

He also understood that putting himself into the right situations was key for career advancement.

He took a chance on moving to New York City, because he knew it was THE place to learn from the best chefs in the world: “With hindsight that it was the most challenging place where I could possibly be. … When you set your standards that high and set your goals that high when you get out of school only good things will happen.”

Good things did happen: Florence landed a job at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole, where he stayed for almost two years. From there, he jumped to a succession of ambitious roles before taking an executive chef position at Cibo, an eclectic Italian bistro, at age 25. It was a role that forced his ambition and ability to align, and the press took notice. So, too, did executives at the Food Network, which was just starting out and was scouting for potential on-air talent. And all of Florence’s hard work was about to have a very different outlet: Food TV. “I just felt like that was the first day of the rest of my life, and I just knew it.”

“I just felt like that was the first day of the rest of my life, and I just knew it.”

Learn to Harness Your Instincts

If there is a lesson here, it’s to be ready when opportunity knocks, even if you’re not quite prepared.

With the All-Stars Challenge, Florence is excited about helping students get to that point where they are ready, from business plan to presentation: “I think there's lots of opportunity for everyone to come to the table and be creative and really think through not only the business structure, but how you are going to make money for your investors and how you’re going to grow and scale.

“Together, we will give you the ability to harness your instincts, and then get them into a position where you can formulate a great company structure on paper to go present that to any sort of investor, anywhere in the world.”

Learn more about the Future Food All-Stars Challenge, and follow Chef Florence on Instagram.


CFIT Dean Jason Evans