The Babson community is no stranger to the rocket pitch. But the Quick Service Incubator, created by the Lewis Institute’s Food Sol, brings a new twist to the concept.
Participants, who are entrepreneurs in the food industry, have two minutes to pitch a business challenge to an audience and a panel of food-industry experts. The audience then breaks into groups to discuss potential solutions, which are shared with the entrepreneurs. Members of the panel, who have included experts such as well-known foodies Andrew Zimmern and Gail Simmons, both Babson entrepreneurs in residence, also give their advice. Rachel Greenberger, MBA’11, director and co-founder of Food Sol, which supports food entrepreneurs, says everyone involved learns from the experience. “Anyone who buys and eats food has a valuable and relevant perspective on the food industry and is a potential customer to the entrepreneur standing at the front of the room,” she says.
Four companies participated in this past fall’s incubator, including Atlantic Saltworks. “We were a bit intimidated at first about pitching,” says co-founder Heather Ahearn, MBA’12. “But we left feeling excited and invigorated.” Other participants agreed. The following is a sampling of the advice the entrepreneurs received.
Heather Ahearn, MBA’12, and Alison Darnell, MBA’09
The Product: handcrafted sea salt
The Challenge: How do we scale our distribution and customer base?
Rethink your packaging. To attract more home and restaurant chefs, switch to a wide-mouth jar. The current packaging—stand-up, resealable pouches—does not provide fast and easy access to the product, which chefs typically desire.
Partner with food companies. Partnering with local and, eventually, national food companies can help provide increased volume in sales. Potential partners could be potato chip and pickle companies.
Romanticize the familiar. Salt is a basic commodity, but their product has an interesting story behind its creation and a unique flavor. Play up those selling points.
Gisela Macedo, MBA’15
The Product: brigadeiro, Brazilian candy
The Challenge: How do I increase my product’s shelf life and distribute it?
Go artisanal. Instead of distributing through grocery stores, which demand longer shelf life, go through artisanal shops to which you can do same day delivery. Establish your own retail shop.
Try individual wraps. For a longer shelf life, skip the box, which allows for more air circulation and faster deterioration of the candies, and wrap them individually.
Embrace the freshness. Don’t worry about extending the product’s shelf life, which would mean changing the recipe. Make the freshness a selling point. When the freshness fades, lower the price.
Mike Angelov ’05 and Alex Burakovsky ’01
The Product: FireQube, a single-use, environmentally friendly charcoal starter
The Challenge: How do we increase consumer awareness of our product?
Push for better placement. In grocery stores, request to be displayed near the meat counter instead of in the outdoor/home section where charcoal typically is sold.
Go bold but simplify. The current packaging, a cardboard box with a lot of text, doesn’t grab people’s attention. Scale back on the text but bump up the colors and graphics.
Donate to a cause. The ill effects of smoke inhalation are a problem in some developing countries. Donate a portion of sales to a related cause to increase goodwill and raise product awareness on a different level.
Octavia Costea, MBA’15
The Product: fruit spreads made only with fruit, no sugar or additives
The Challenge: Beyond my website and stores such as Whole Foods, how do I increase distribution?
Branch out. Sell your products on e-commerce sites other than your own.
Play up what’s unique. The spreads can be used in dishes beyond what consumers traditionally think of for jams and preserves. Make people aware of their many uses via the label and other marketing strategies, and then demand will increase and distribution will follow.
Create your own category. Differentiate your product by branding it as a new category of product. —Donna Coco