‘ALREADY UP AND RUNNING’
NecesitoDoc plans to launch formally in the U.S. in January 2018. In the meantime, its founders are amping up their marketing efforts in Mexico and developing a strategy for operating in the U.S. “The difference between us and other teams is, we’re already up and running,” Leon says. “But the program has offered us a lot of networking opportunities, like bootcamps and happy hours, and we have a mentor who has been working with us through LAUNCH.”
He and his brother are hoping for a seed round of about $600,000 to implement their business plan in Mexico and launch in the U.S. “One of the most important things right now is, we want as much exposure as possible. We’re going to do everything we can to get funding in the States,” Diego says.
Leon admits it’s been a struggle to run a company, participate in LAUNCH, and get his MBA at the same time. “It’s been a very intense process,” he says. “I’ve definitely had to prioritize.”
BUBBLIZE — A BERKELEY BOBA STARTUP
Not everyone participating in LAUNCH was directly associate with Haas, however. One of the startups in the accelerator this year was Bubblize, whose co-founder, Mark Webb, is a UC-Berkeley alum who majored in biochemistry. He now works in the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab; Bubblize co-founder Manny Ornelas is a UC-Berkeley undergraduate.
Webb, who has been working on Bubblize since 2015, says his mission is to bring boba and milk tea to the world in a self-stable form. “I really enjoy boba, but there was always a really long line,” Webb says. “We’re entrepreneurs at heart, and one day we were in line, brainstorming ideas, and were like, ‘What if we did boba? Why has nobody done this?'”
Webb developed a shelf-stable variant of boba pearls, which typically are made of tapioca. Tapioca pearls currently have a shelf life of around eight hours, Webb says. His pearls, however, can last indefinitely.
“The milk tea has a shelf life of about three months,” he says. “So we’ve expanded the shelf life from eight hours to three months, and that expands the milk tea market, because you can now reach parts of the country that have never had it before.”
NOT LOOKING TO DISRUPT BRICK-AND-MORTAR BOBA SHOPS
The existing market for milk tea is small, Webb says, because brick-and-mortar shops come with an overhead costs — things like employees and utilities — and those costs are high if you’re just selling one product. “So you’re limited to areas with a large Asian demographic, and urban centers,” Webb says. “So you only really see them in coastal cities. But when you can put boba on a shelf in Walgreens, the overhead cost is lower, because the cost is distributed over hundreds of products.”
Webb wants to make clear that they’re not in this to disrupt the brick-and-mortar boba business. People will always want fresh boba, like they want coffee, he says. Instead, he hopes to expand the market to places boba isn’t already available. “We want to see people in Cleveland, Ohio, in the suburbs, drinking boba,” he says.
The first batch of Bubblize will be made in a facility that already has FDA approval. Eventually, Webb says, he hopes to bottle from a facility of their own, which means going through the FDA approval process themselves.
When available, a Bubblize bottle of boba will be around $3 or $4, and will come in glass bottles, potentially decorated by local artists in each city they reach. “We think boba is an experience, and a joyous experience,” Webb says. “We want people to buy our beverage and really enjoy every aspect of it, down to the bottle.”
‘THERE ARE JUDGES, BUT THERE’S ALSO AN AUDIENCE’
Oishii Farms, a startup using technology from Japan to grow fresh produce year-round no matter the location, won the $25,000 grand prize at this year’s LAUNCH Demo Day. Runner up Mekonos, a biomedical nanorobotics startup, won $15,000. The audience choice award, which was determined by audience members who downloaded and voted through the LAUNCH app, went to Pop Oats, a healthy snack startup. And Kokko, a startup that helps people make color choices while shopping, won the Plug and Play Award, guaranteeing them a spot in the Plug and Play accelerator.
But NecesitoDoc and Bubblize weren’t left empty-handed. NecesitoDoc was awarded the Hansoo Lee Fellowship — $5,000 and office space at a VC’s office — as well as the Dean’s Fund, which also includes $5,000 and office space. This week, they’re pitching again at the Collision Tech Conference in New Orleans.
And while the benefit of participating in LAUNCH may not be as concrete for Bubblize, Webb says the experience was definitely worth it. “I think the biggest gain was just understanding how to pitch well,” he says. “And learning how to properly do market analysis. We grew a lot, and we validated the market. It was good to be in a setting where you’re pushed to get out the door.”