With the recent launch of their Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, a local startup is hoping to raise money to get its first idea off the ground, a high-protein salad topper.
HYP Foods is the brainchild of two seasoned food industry professionals, Derek Mansfield and Ian Pasquarelli, and one investment expert, Stein Kretsinger.
Each single-serving package contains 10 grams of protein, and whether you go for Cville Caesar, Soy Ginger or Cuke Dill, the topper will be non-GMO, vegetarian, gluten free, low carb and organic.
“HYP Foods is kind of this wonderful serendipity of meeting the right team and caring about good quality in nutrition,” Kretsinger said. “I don’t think any one of us could have done it without the others.”
The HYP Foods founders also worked with HackCville, an entrepreneurial talent accelerator, which provided three interns who assisted in creating the HYP brand and initially assessing consumers’ interest.
HackCville’s executive director, Chip Ransler, said he thinks the partnership allowed for the interns to learn from hands-on experience while also helping the startup get off the ground.
“It’s a combination of HackCville and Stein [Kretsinger] and these really awesome guys who have a lot of experience with the food industry coming together and making something cool in a really fast and interesting way,” Ransler said.
HYP Foods began its research by pinpointing its target consumer.
“The six of us had a discussion about who we thought would be most interested,” said intern Yae Ji Cha. “We started off with maybe about six different groups.”
With health-conscious folks in mind, the HYP team focused on those who have difficulty getting protein into their diets, including vegetarians and vegans, people who like to work out and college students. They spoke with people who fit into those groups about their desires for the product and adjusted it in accordance with their responses.
“We were thinking originally to put it in a glass 12-ounce bottle but after interviewing a lot of different people in Charlottesville, we realized that people really wanted more of a portable, one-use kind of salad dressing,” Cha said.
The potential customers’ positive reaction to the product gave the team confidence.
“There’s room in the market,” said Mansfield. “It’s a product that we can develop and feel really good about both from a quality and nutritious perspective, but also from a flavor perspective.”
Once it was decided that there were people out there who would purchase and enjoy a high-protein salad dressing, the baton was passed on to Pasquarelli. In collaboration with friends and others involved in the Charlottesville food scene, he began to concoct the dressing recipes.
“We just threw him in the kitchen,” Mansfield said.
Balancing general health benefits, large amounts of protein and a good flavor proved to be a hard task and there were lots or taste test trials. The team tried different types of protein powders, including vegetable powders and even a cricket powder, before landing on the final recipes.
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HYP Foods is using a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for both product development and expansion.
“We’re very excited to use Kickstarter as a way for Charlottesville to get businesses started and funded,” Kretsinger said. “I have spent my career helping entrepreneurs get seed capital, and getting seed capital from customers is a wonderful way to start and launch a business.”
The Kickstarter campaign also allows for HYP Foods to once again gauge interest in its product.
“We really like that Kickstarter mentality that people are providing interest capital,” Mansfield said. “In return, we’re able to send them product and really get them excited about the brand.”
Ransler, who works with more than 50 companies through HackCville, agrees that crowdfunding for a startup is a good source of initial investment.
“You’re trying to see if something is going to work as fast as possible to see if you should continue working on it,” he said. “A really great way for entrepreneurs to do that is through Indiegogo, Kickstarter, that kind of thing. I think it’s one of the greatest entrepreneurial tools out there.”
The Kickstarter campaign launched Aug. 6 with a goal of $15,000. Within two days, the donations had exceeded 50 percent of the goal amount. The campaign runs through Sept. 5.
Kickstarter campaigns also allow for investments outside the direct community, which Kretsinger said he thinks is important to the success of HYP Foods because of Charlottesville’s relatively small population.
“Charlottesville is a wonderful place, but for businesses it’s missing one crucial element, which is customers,” Kretsinger said. “We expect the majority of our sales to be outside of Charlottesville.”
While the Charlottesville area might not be able to provide a large market, Mansfield said he thinks it is the perfect place to start a business, especially when that business is related to food.
“Having the university here and the history of innovation and entrepreneurship here, I think it bodes well for folks like us who are trying to start a company in this town,” he said. “People here are accustomed to trying and supporting local brands.”
HYP Foods is currently only working on the salad toppers, but has hopes of expanding to complementary food products, such as dips and other high-protein condiments, once the toppers are up and running.
The expected price of each salad topper pouch is $3, Kretsinger said.