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An MBA’s ‘Futuristic’ Meal Delivery Startup

Tovala in KitchenFOODIE INTEREST FROM A YOUNG AGE

Talking about challenges of creating delicious and convenient food meals is not something most would expect to hear from a recently graduated MBA from Booth. “The first few weeks, we were creating the meals ourselves and it was taking a lot of time,” says Rabie. “And it’s not our job. We’re not great at producing 50 sea basses and asparagus. And we’re not great at creating new recipes.”

Yet that’s exactly the type of problems Rabie set out to tackle from the get-go at Booth. The Los Angeles native had a budding interest in the power of food since a week-long health retreat with his father in the nearby Santa Monica Mountains. “It was the first time we looked at food as something that could change the way we felt,” recalls Rabie, noting the two hiked all day and ate a strict vegetarian diet. “It opened my eyes to the power of food and changed the way I ate and viewed food for the rest of my life.”

DRAWING ON THE CHICAGO BOOTH NETWORK

And so when Rabie did decide to snag his MBA from Booth after a series of jobs that he never spent more than two years working, he did so with three intentions. Rabie wanted to use the Booth MBA to expand his professional network, leave California for a while, and launch a food venture.

“I saw everything that was happening in the space,” says Rabie noting he spent his first year building his network and second year launching his business, which was then called Maestro. “Blue Apron, Plated and Instacart had created the whole model of delivering fresh ingredients.”

And Booth ended up being the ideal place for Rabie to enter the inundated market. He was able to leverage and tap into an open space. “The resources for entrepreneurship are there and there are fewer people that use them than the consulting route,” claims Rabie. “If someone is dedicated to it, there is an enormous amount of resources to use. Tons and tons of alums are in the VC world and in the startup world. And I was not bashful about using that.”

If Rabie needed any advice or connections, he turned to Booth’s Polsky Center first. He used the business idea for Tovala in “five or six classes” during his second year. “It allowed me to get classmates to help on the business, work on different pieces of the business depending on which class it was, and get to know some professors, who ultimately ended up advising us, investing in us and helping open up doors,” says Rabie. For example, Tovala has gained financial backing from Booth faculty members, Mark Tebbe and Craig Wortmann

The acceptance into and use of Y Combinator in nearby Mountain View, California, has also been paramount to the company’s early growth. In addition to the $120K from the Y Combinator, the team has gained mentorship from other early-stage entrepreneurs and a “hyper-focus” on finishing the product. “The halo of being in YC has affected our team out in Chicago also,” Rabie adds. “The pace at which we’re moving on our product is phenomenal.”

They’ve also been able to make pivots and adjustments and draw on some venture capital cash, announcing the $500K seed round in January.