It’s 7:55 a.m. and your class starts in five minutes. You’re running late, and though you’ve showered, pulled on a clean sweater, and packed your book bag, you’ve neglected to eat breakfast, the most important meal of the day. You manage to arrive on time, yet you’re hungry, thinking more about the morning coffee and the three-egg omelet you wish you’d made than your professor’s lecture and the impending exam worth a quarter of your grade. For the next 60 minutes, time passes slowly, even imperceptibly, until your professor says those two hallowed words that you have longed to hear—“Class dismissed”—and you scurry out of the room in search of sustenance.
Johnny Fayad and Ali Kothari, both DMSB’17, are no strangers to this scenario. In the fall 2013, they routinely skipped their morning coffee in order to make their 8 a.m. financial accounting course. The daily problem needed a permanent solution and Fayad thought he had the answer: “Why not just eat our coffee?”
A few months later, the fledgling entrepreneurs founded New Grounds Food and joined the Husky Startup Challenge, a business development competition run by the Northeastern Entrepreneurs Club. “If you have an idea, the Husky Startup Challenge is a great resource,” says Kothari, a third-year business major with concentrations in entrepreneurship, finance, and sustainable business practices. The program’s boot camps and networking events, he says, “really helped us think about the viability of our business in terms of our potential customers and our price points.”
In short order, Kothari and Fayad started making trial batch after trial batch of their flagship product, the Coffeebar, a first-of-its-kind all-natural energy bar infused with a full cup of fair trade coffee and flavored to replicate their morning cup of mocha latte. The product’s target audience is college students, young professionals, and those with unusual schedules, like doctors and truck drivers.
“Our mission is to provide people with a healthier way to stay energized throughout the day,” says Fayad, a third-year business major with concentrations in entrepreneurship, finance, and supply chain management. “We don’t want to replace coffee, but rather provide an alternative when you’re running late and you don’t have time for breakfast or may need a second cup for later in the day.”
Eventually they perfected their recipe—cinnamon, chocolate chips, a full shot of espresso—and handed out free samples to people who attended the startup challenge Demo Day, where they grabbed the attention of IDEA, the university’s student-run venture accelerator.
Since then, IDEA has awarded Fayad and Kothari $10,000 in gap funding; hooked them up with a lawyer; and connected them with the former supply chain manager of 2 Degrees Food, a buy-one-give-one food company à la Toms Shoes. “The gap funding really kicked our business forward,” Kothari says, “but even more meaningful have been the mentors in and out of the food industry who have been able to help us along our journey.” The best piece of advice they have received from IDEA’s mentors, Fayad says, is to “start small and grow from there.”
“Control your growth,” they were told, “and scale accordingly.”
Fayad and Kothari started by taste-testing the Coffeebar in bike shops and cafes, including Wired Puppy on Newbury Street in Boston. Their ultimate business goal is to sell the product in Whole Foods and through an online subscription service, a pair of lofty intentions for which they will need more funding.
Over the past year, Fayad and Kothari have raised $45,000 in seed funding from angel investors, including Michael Bronner, a serial entrepreneur whose latest venture aims to unjunk junk food. On Monday at 9 a.m., the entrepreneurs in training launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise an additional $10,000, all of which will go toward packaging the minimum order of Coffeebars, which are currently being manufactured in a commercial kitchen. The packaging, designed by Scout, Northeastern’s student-run design studio, takes aim at the potential customer’s heart and her head: Below the logo emblazoned on the wrapper—a picture of a mug with a bite taken out of it—is the selling point, a whimsical take on the tasty, yet healthy product. “Trust me, I taste amazing. Oh, and I’m healthy too, with plenty of protein, fiber, and coffee to keep you going. Go ahead, eat me….”
Although the mocha latte-flavored Coffeebar has yet to hit the supermarket shelves, Fayad and Kothari have plenty of ideas for future flavors, including pumpkin spike and peppermint mocha. But the future of New Grounds Food, they say, will hinge on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. “The results of the campaign will really tell our tale,” Fayad notes. “We look forward to seeing how people respond to our story and where this will take us.”