MBA Program: Georgetown University, McDonough School of Business
Founding Student Names: Maria Margarita Womack (EMBA’19)
Brief Description of Solution: Poor diet is an epidemic in the United States: Two-thirds of adults are obese and poor diet is estimated to be a contributing factor in 20 percent of early deaths according to the CDC. We often attribute this solely to a lack of access to quality foods. In reality, time constraints are just as important. In the case of working parents, research suggests families eat at least 20 percent of their meals in the car, with 12 percent of a typical family’s diet consisting of fast food! M’panadas are real food to fuel people on the go. Based on typical Hispanic street foods, M’panadas offer the convenience and portability of fast food and the wholesomeness of a homemade meal for the whole family: a balanced bite in a pocket. This complete snack can be prepared in minutes and is ready to go with you anywhere: microwavable, no utensils needed, high in protein and fiber, and packing a full serving of veggies. Finally, M’panadas pair just as well with a glass of wine as with a juice box, making it an ideal food for the whole family. Eating on the run does not have to involve sacrificing nutrition, and our great Latin flavors differentiate our product from other “frozen pockets” and keep things interesting for mouths of all sizes. We are working to change the way people eat because a proper diet is the basis for a successful life.
Funding Dollars: $40,000
What led you to launch this venture? I saw an opportunity, an unaddressed niche in the market. As I investigated, I concluded that all the right pieces were there and that it was the perfect time for me to try starting a company. I had a tasty product with a potentially large market and custom niche, a story that aligned with who I am, a relatively low requirement for capital investment, manageable risk, and the possibility to couple business theory with the actual practice of running a nascent company in real-time.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with your venture? My biggest accomplishment so far has been reaching regional distribution for my foodservice line of products. You can find us at hotels, event venues, and country clubs from Richmond all the way to Philadelphia! Distribution for food service was a particularly challenging aspect of growing the business – it is a chicken and egg problem. Potential vendors will not take your product until they can purchase it from their preferred distributors (e.g., Sysco), but distributors do not want to onboard your product until you can show vendors will actually purchase it!
How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture?
Key skills: The most obvious benefit is the series of business skills acquired through a wonderful set of classes (finances, accounting, operations, etc.) that set the baseline to successfully run a startup.
Access to Professors: Many of the professors I had during my MBA consult for large firms. I had direct access to them and could approach them with any questions I might have as I was growing my business.
Feedback from Peers: My start-up business was the topic of four different group projects. We tackled market/product fit, value-based pricing, marketing strategy and improved operations as part of our classes. Having my MBA peers take a close look at M’panadas and apply recently acquired knowledge to improve my venture was extremely useful.
Connections: Growing a startup is like raising a child – it takes a village. Professors, classmates, and Entrepreneurs-in-Residence have introduced me to key people who have been essential to the progress of my company. For example, I mentioned above how I am particularly proud of achieving regional distribution for my food service line. This was in part the result of an introduction by a fellow Hoya who I met at a pitching competition on campus.
Hoya Entrepreneurs: I also had (and continue to have) access to a diverse community of entrepreneurs who have supported my professional growth. Specifically, I had the opportunity to participate in pitch competitions on campus with real investors, as well as the chance to work closely with Entrepreneurs-in-Residence as advisers who provided valuable assistance in refining my business idea.
What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Seth Goldman, the founder of Honest Tea, was an inspiration to start the journey. As somebody sharing many parallels with me, Seth’s story was proof that I also had a chance at making it. He was not an expert in the food and beverage industry, but was dealing with a young family during the startup years, and brought to life an idea that literally started at his kitchen counter.
Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? This is not an easy pick, as a number of my classes provided foundational knowledge that enabled me to refine and grow my business. If pressed, I would say that Decision-Making has probably been the most valuable class in building my startup. One of the hardest things I have faced with growing a company is juggling the many roles, responsibilities, and rapidly-changing demands. The saying “time is gold” took a completely new meaning. Improving how to prioritize, make the best use of my time, and tackle tough decisions helped to lower the stress of managing it all and provided a beacon to follow.
What is your long-term goal with your startup? I am aiming to grow my startup into a company with a suite of modern and healthy products available through multiple channels (e.g., food service, consumer packaged goods, etc.) nationwide.