From Delivery Platforms To Aquaponics, MBAs & The Food Startup Craze

Rachel Greenberger, founder and director of Babson College's Food Sol. Courtesy photo

Rachel Greenberger, founder and director of Babson College’s Food Sol. Courtesy photo

FROM ETHIOPIAN TEFF FLOUR TO ZERO CALORIE DRINK MIXERS

Rosenzweig says the same ideas were the genesis of the Food Business School and the Food Venture Lab. “It turns out this sector has become incredibly attractive to entrepreneurs and innovators and business school students,” concedes Rosenzweig.

At Harvard Business School, Jodi Gernon, the director of the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, says she’s seeing more business students using the Rock Center for food-related ventures of all sorts. Gernon says there are two food-related ventures using the Rock Accelerator program now. Issima is a fast-casual food chain and the other, theSaladBar, a natural nutrition bar.

“I think there definitely is increased interest and I think it has to do with people understanding some of the different options out there,” Gernon explains, citing upcoming HBS startup, Be Mixed, which produces and sells zero calorie cocktail mixes and took second at the Rock Center’s most recent new venture competition.

“Would I have said five years ago we would have a company that was importing teff flour from Ethiopia or creating a zero calorie drink mixer? I don’t think I would have said yes,” Gernon continues. “I think we would have guessed to see a lot of things around technology or fashion technology or financial technology.”

Gernon says she sees “a lot of room for disruption in the food industry,” citing new technologies and a growing call towards organic and natural ingredients. “The challenge is in finding investors to support these businesses as they have not been a big point of focus for traditional venture capital companies,” Gernon wrote in a follow-up email with Poets&Quants. Gernon suggests crowdsourcing as a way for early ventures to establish demand and noted theSaladBar “easily” reached their Kickstarter campaign goal of $10,000.

BABSON’S FOOD SOL LEADING FOOD INNOVATION

But if any B-school is leading in food entrepreneurship and innovation, it’s hard to argue against that school being Babson College. Greenberger co-founded Food Sol alongside Cheryl Kiser, her faculty advisor and the executive director of the Lewis Institute for Social Innovation, as she was completing her MBA at Babson. “I had no background in the food industry, just a lot of desire,” says Greenberger.

“This was early 2010, and at that time, really no business schools were rallying around the food industry flagpole or food entrepreneurship,” recalls Greenberger, adding she spent her entire second year of her MBA incubating the idea and notion of Food Sol. “I don’t think the term ‘food entrepreneurship’ was really being used at all. Not that I’d seen.”

Passion grows in her voice as Greenberger explains behind Food Sol was the desire to “illuminate the break downs in the food system and illuminating people, organizations and initiatives that were doing hard work with their noses to the ground and didn’t necessarily have the time and energy to look up and see who is near them to be an ally and partner.”

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