2020 Leadership award winner for Vision

Natalie Shmulik

The Hatchery, Chicago

Natalie Shmulik, 33, knew she wanted a career in the food industry.

Shmulik, a Canadian, studied English and theatre as an undergraduate at Toronto’s York University and followed up with a Master of Liberal Arts degree in Gastronomy at Boston University. Learning about food’s huge impact on history, religion, society, and individuals fascinated her. It has also proved pivotal in her job as CEO of The Hatchery, a nonprofit food and beverage incubator headquartered in a underserved neighborhood on the west side of Chicago where there is limited access to nutritious food.

“You know the phrase ‘jack of all trades, master of none?’” she asks. “I think that’s incorrect. You actually have to be a jack of all trades to master one. All of my experience in the food industry, in retailing, marketing, designing, writing, and consumer packaged goods, led me to this incubation job.”

Post-college, Natalie owned and ran a breakfast and lunch franchise in Toronto called Sunset Grill. At supermarket chain Longo’s, she worked on the demo program and culinary school, introducing new products to shoppers and learning how they navigated the aisles. “I realized something big was coming down the pipeline and really connected to the opportunity to do more,” she says. 

And that’s what she has accomplished at The Hatchery, which supports local entrepreneurs without start-up funds or professional resources to build and grow businesses and cultivate community jobs. The joint venture is between two Chicago nonprofits, Accion and the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago. Shmulik was hired as a consultant in 2015 and became CEO in 2018. 

“First and foremost, I wanted to create a feeling of safety for the entrepreneurs,” she says. “It’s an uphill battle trying to figure it all out on your own; the margins, dealing with perishable products. We wanted to give them what they needed to be as successful as possible, a way to share strategies and knowledge and be with like-minded individuals. It can be so isolating and mentally draining and exhausting, and you question if you have the strength to continue.”

At the incubator’s new $34 million, 67,000-square-foot facility, Natalie teaches classes on how to start a food business. Thirty to 50 sign up every month who are eager to network, learn about trademarks and trade secrets, raising capital, branding, and getting legal advice. Corporate sponsorship has been instrumental to The Hatchery and the city of Chicago is an enthusiastic advocate. So far, 150 local jobs have been created.


  • 2008: Natalie buys and manages a franchise of Sunset Grill, a Canadian breakfast and lunch chain
  • 2010: Works for a Canadian grocer, Longo’s
  • 2013: Earns a Master degree in gastronomy from Boston University; works as a consultant for EvyTea in the Boston area
  • 2014: Moves to Chicago to work for a food business incubator
  • 2015: Becomes a consultant for a joint venture between Accion and Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago to find a way to invest in underprivileged food and beverage entrepreneurs in Chicago neighborhoods with high unemployment; the company launches as a virtual incubator
  • 2017: The Hatchery is incorporated on the west side of Chicago
  • 2018: Natalie is named CEO of The Hatchery
  • 2019: A $34 million, 67,000-square-foot facility opens, featuring dozens of state-of-the-art kitchens, business planning services, event spaces, and classrooms