Industry: Food Tech
Founding Student Name(s): Ian Weng
Brief Description of Solution: SPATULA is a chef-to-customer frozen meals marketplace that is reinventing frozen food in Canada. For our customers, each meal is flash frozen, crafted by award-winning local chefs, and delivered right to their door. They are made with the highest quality ingredients, packaged with elevated touches, and can be heated up in under 10 minutes on a pan with the help of a spatula. We give our customers the benefit of extreme convenience without sacrificing on taste. For chefs, we offer a platform for them to scale and monetize their culinary creations outside of traditional restaurants.
Funding Dollars: We received $60,000 EUR from INSEAD by winning first place at the INSEAD Venture Competition to kick off our venture. Since graduation, we’ve raised an additional $1.25M in our Pre-Seed round.
What led you to launch this venture? I was at INSEAD in France when the country locked down due to COVID-19. With restricted access to fresh ingredients, lack of time, and (let’s be real) limited culinary skills, I relied on frozen meals for nourishment. To my surprise, in a country renowned for food, I found a slice of paradise in Picard’s gourmet frozen meals, beloved by the French. I couldn’t stop thinking about why high quality frozen meals didn’t exist back home in Canada.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture?
Our biggest accomplishment to date is establishing a phenomenal leadership team who will bring spatula into reality. It takes a lot of time and effort to hire the right team, and I’m really pleased with the team of rock stars that we’ve assembled. Collectively, the team has decades of experience across operations, culinary, and marketing, and are made up of leaders within their respective fields. In a short couple of months since graduation, the team has pulled together product development and testing for several SKUs, and received strong positive feedback from our friends and family pilot. By the time that this article will be published, our team will have soft-launched our MVP into the market!
How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? INSEAD was an amazing ecosystem for building a startup. From like-minded colleagues to courses and programs designed to support entrepreneurs, INSEAD provided the support and network that we needed as we built SPATULA while on campus. Outside of class, the single most important thing that influenced our startup’s growth and trajectory was the INSEAD Venture Competition (IVC). The competition forced us to be disciplined on building our venture so that we didn’t get lost in all of the other exciting opportunities and distractions that comes with an MBA program. On top of that, the guidance and advice that the IVC mentors, advisors, and competition organizers provided were invaluable.
What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Dan Park (currently CEO of Clutch) was inspirational in my journey to build SPATULA. I met Dan while working at Uber Eats, prior to starting my MBA. Dan was the GM and Head of Canada at that time. Although Uber was no longer a startup at that time, building Uber Eats from the ground up sure felt like one. Dan was a people-first leader, who was able to inspire his team to execute and successfully build a massive Uber Eats business in Canada. Before starting at INSEAD, Dan advised that I leverage my time on campus to build a company rather than waiting for after graduation. I took that guidance to heart, and founded SPATULA at INSEAD.
Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? During my last semester on campus, I took an elective called “Body Business – Understanding Food and Wellbeing”. The course walked through years of research on how branding, nutritional labeling, and packaging affected consumer perception and purchasing behaviour of food products. Most of the topics learned in this class was extremely relevant to SPATULA, and greatly influenced how we thought about marking, branding, and pricing at the company. One of the most critical takeaways from the course was the effect of epicurean food labeling and its effect on the consumer’s perception of the product.
What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Professor Pierre Chandon is the L’Oréal Chaired Professor of Marketing – Innovation and Creativity at INSEAD, and was the mastermind behind the Body Business course that I took. Aside from the relevancy and applicability of the course content itself, I was also able to spend time with Professor Chandon outside of the classroom to discuss marketing, branding, and strategy specific to SPATULA. He offered deep insights on packaging and branding, along with ideas on future expansions and pivots.
What is your long-term goal with your startup? Although we are initially launching in Canada, we have ambitions to bring the deliciousness of SPATULA meals to the United States as well. We want to expand beyond the direct-to-consumer delivery model, and create flagship SPATULA stores in metropolitan centers so that customers can come in to taste and smell our food. We want to create a hub where customers can interact with local celebrity chefs, creating a community between consumers and culinary artists. We are on a mission to reinvent frozen food, and the sky is our limit.
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