After a near 13-year career in the corporate natural products sector, Minnesota native Kate LaBrosse created a new venture for herself that allowed her to share her industry knowledge and help small, emerging brands from Minnesota reach their potential.

Earlier this year, she launched Brand Builders Market, a brand activation and incubator space for small businesses inside St. Paul's Keg & Case.

Through the market, founders of early-stage food, apparel and consumer packaged goods(CPG) companies take LaBrosse's business acceleration course, join a brand community she's cultivated, receive marketing services for their brands, and are introduced to retailers, investors and distributors, in addition to the space in Keg & Case to sell products.

By the first quarter of 2022, when the third wave of companies roll into Brand Builders Market, 50 brands, nearly all of them based in Minnesota, will have had space in the market, LaBrosse said.

Some of those local brands include St. Paul-based Maazah, a family-owned food company that makes Afghan-style chutney; and All Clean Food, a Minnetonka company that makes allergy free, ready-to-cook pasta meals. The two products are now sold in co-op groceries across the Twin Cities.

"Turns out we have a massively diverse and large group of these emerging brands," LaBrosse said. "I think Minnesota can be the next hub for CPG in the country. We have so much here to pull that together."

LaBrosse took an alternative path to the food industry. She does not have a college degree. Instead, she was drawn to natural consumer goods after researching products that could possibly help with her bipolar disorder.

"That's what got me into eating differently and [taking] supplements and products that could help me," she said. "This is all my passion. I believe in a world that doesn't sell poison marketed as food."

Before starting Brand Builders, LaBrosse worked in marketing and sales with Valley Natural Foods in Burnsville, St. Paul-based business services cooperative National Coop Grocers, and Illinois-based food broker Presence Marketing.

LaBrosse eventually left the corporate world and in 2019 started Kate LaBrosse Coaching and Consulting, where she built relationships with local entrepreneurs to help them expand their companies.

When the owners of Keg & Case heard of her connections with Twin Cities brands, they asked if she'd be interested in opening a market in their building for their reopening in May.

The invitation gave LaBrosse the idea to use the market as a business incubation space that would operate in conjunction with her coaching and consulting programming. There are two levels of participation in the Brand Builders program, which cost $250 and $500, respectively, LaBrosse said.

Through the rest of 2021, LaBrosse also will have a pop-up Brand Builders market inside the True North Collaborative retail space in Uptown's Seven Points building. She may also expand her market program to other states.

Through the Brand Builders Market, LaBrosse and her team prioritize brands that use natural ingredients and have an environmental or social justice component to their mission, she said.

"For us, this is a really collaborative model," she said. "Not only am I collaborating with folks across the country that can elevate and help these brands expand, they're collaborating with each other and with local influencers. This is how we win."