Industry: Food CPG: Sports Nutrition
Founding Student Name(s): Linda Alvarez (CEO, Cornell Johnson Class of 2021); Stephanie Schrauth (COO, Cornell Johnson Class of 2021)
Brief Description of Solution: Women physiologically fuel differently than men. However, sports nutrition products are based on men’s physiology. As a result, female athletes endure a myriad of physical side effects during competition and training. Levelle aims to redesign current sports food products by focusing on the needs and preferences of the female athletes. Our first product is Levelle Set: our all natural, organic, vegan, no-sugar added, gluten-free endurance gel. Our formulation is designed to ease digestion while providing sustained fuel.
Funding Dollars: Received WE Cornell Summer Fellowship Grant, cash awards from New York State Business Plan Competition (NYC Regional Winner and State Semifinalists in Food and Agriculture tracks.) Crowdfunding Campaign on IFundWomen during October – November 2021, entering pre-seed round in early 2022.
What led you to launch this venture? After dozens of athlete interviews, my cofounder and I could not ignore the physical symptoms in female athletes caused by sports food products. Compounding the problem, many female athletes felt as though their bodies were the problem, rather than products on the market. It infuriated us how prevalent the problem was, and how little the sports nutrition industry had done to remedy it. Using my background in clinical medicine and nutrition, we were dedicated to creating a solution.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? I think our team’s biggest accomplishment is what we have been able to achieve in less than a year. Since Levelle’s incorporation in February 2021, we have been able to develop an all-natural product and will be undergoing MVP testing. We are actively working on a provisional patent for our recipe and formulation process. We have had the opportunity to participate in multiple pitch competitions and startup showcases, allowing us to develop a presence in the NYS food entrepreneurship space. The pace at which we have been able to accomplish this has been a great motivator for our small but mighty team.
How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? The Johnson and Entrepreneurship at Cornell communities have been extremely supportive of Levelle. Levelle was conceptualized and developed during the second year of our MBA program. We truly viewed each of our courses as an opportunity to add another layer of focus as we built our start-up business. Additionally, Levelle was part of the Spring 2021 WE (Women Entrepreneurs) Cornell Cohort, where we were able to participate in the NSF Regional I-Corps program.
The Johnson faculty has been incredible in helping us further our startup. From thorough project feedback to one-to-one advisement meetings, they have been invaluable in furthering Levelle.
What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Andrea Ippolito (CEO and Founder, SimpliFed.) In starting Levelle, I was pivoting from a career in clinical medicine to a career in CPG food. Andrea’s story of starting in STEM and then using her experience and knowledge to create innovative start-up solutions was truly compelling. Through her current start-up, SimpliFed, she is providing real solutions to new mothers regarding their lactation and infant feeding concerns. Seeing the impact, she was able to make in these women’s lives motivated me to take the next step with Levelle.
Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? The Innovation and New Venture Creation course was crucial in building our start-up. Through the semester-long course, student teams develop innovative business ideas and comprehensive business plans to solve a market segment pain point. The course emphasizes data-driven decision making from startup inception to maturation, which is a skill we continue to use to navigate our decision process. The core of this data is gained from interviewing customers and truly understanding their needs, their motivations, and their struggles. We continue customer interviews and use their feedback and insights to ensure we deliver on our company mission and product value proposition.
What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Through the Innovation and New Venture Creation course, we were able to work with Cornell Professors Tom Schryver, Ken Rother, and Steve Gal, each of whom has vast entrepreneurial experience. Their feedback and insights during Levelle’s customer discovery and initial MVP development helped shape how my cofounder and I approached decision making for our startup.
What is your long-term goal with your startup? Levelle’s mission is to create nutritional products tailored to female endurance athletes based on their individual needs and supported through scientific research. Today, we are starting with one product, but we have big plans. Over the next few years, we will expand to multiple product lines, develop a customization engine to match athlete’s metabolic needs to a tailored nutrition system, and create bundles based on athlete’s individual training needs. Additionally, we want to help expand research available on female athletes, as currently women make up less than 3% of sports performance study participants.
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