Lisa Bloomquist and Jared Buff, two of Be Free Village's 10 partners, prepare to unveil their gluten-free meal box June 12, with test marketing already under way in select Boise hotels.
You don't have to like your co-workers, let alone your business partners.
"But it certainly functions better," said Ali Farber. "I think it was..."
"I think it was one of the reasons we did so well," said Jennie Myers, finishing her new colleague's sentence. "It's because we clicked; we made that connection."
Farber, a marketing specialist for Boise-based investment firm D.B. Fitzpatrick, and Myers, creative director for Drake Cooper Advertising Agency, had little in common when they were teamed up with eight other young professionals in September 2012 to brainstorm a new business concept. Nine months later, they're the co-owners of a company--Be Free Village--that took first prize in the recently wrapped B-Launched 2.0 competition. The top two teams secured seed money to get their companies off the ground, and the entities will be publicly unveiled Wednesday, June 12.
"But this is our second job," said Brooke Green, a district mobility manager for the Community Transportation Association of Idaho. "We were very clear about drawing the line between our B-Launched job and our regular day jobs."
Greene, Farber, Myers and seven other partners, all members of Boise Young Professionals, (sponsor of the B-Launched competition) said "we were drafted together" to become a team by mentors Steve Hodges, 2011 inductee into the Idaho Technology Council Hall of Fame, and Faisal Shah, high-tech entrepreneur and co-founder of B-Launched.
"And of course, there was no pressure," said Farber with a big laugh. "We faced the fact that Faisal Shah's previous two teams won this competition."
With two technology-based wizards as mentors, one might suspect that the latest B-Launched success would be another high-tech innovation, much like most of the competition's previous entries.
"But Faisal kept telling us, 'You're not a technology-based group. Do what you do best. Create a brand,'" said Green.
Easier said than done.
"We started with hundreds of ideas," said Myers. "We probably spent three months just in the ideation process. It was one of the most difficult exercises I've ever been involved with because we were not really given a particular sandbox to play in."
The "sandbox" they ended up in was far afield from high-tech but equally vast: the food industry.
"We ended up looking at food allergies and, in particular, being gluten-free," said Lisa Bloomquist, market specialist for the Boise Valley Economic Partnership by day and BeFree Village partner by night. "Let's face it, you can't walk down the aisle of a grocery store without products saying 'gluten-free' jumping out at you."
"This is estimated to be a $6.5 billion industry by 2014," said Green.
But Be Free Village only wants a tiny slice of that massive pie.
"Our target is the traveler, and we want to get to them through hotels," said Green. "One woman said she spent a week in Mexico, but had to board a bus and try to communicate with people at a grocery store just to get her gluten-free products. She could have had this waiting for her at her hotel."
"This" is an "On the Fly" meal box.
"All in, it actually qualifies as a meal, but it's more snack-based," said Myers. "Inside, we have crackers, tuna fish, nuts, dried fruit and our own chocolate bar."
Myers called the chocolate bar "super food," manufactured by Boise-based Good Cacao with a special Be Free Village label.
"No GMOs, no artificial colors, plus it's our exclusive chocolate bar," she added.
Myers said the snack box is already being tested out in two hotels: Hotel 43 in downtown Boise and Spring Hill Suites near Hewlett-Packard,
"We made our pitch to them, even prior to winning the competition," said Farber. "We're piloting our first product at $10 a box, which is pretty close to the going rate for snack boxes at airports. And when you look at a hotel mini bar, you can pay $3 for a box of M&Ms."
For now, Be Free Village is a kitchen table operation--quite literally.
"We get together at a kitchen table, and pack up the boxes. Right now, we're at 450 boxes and you're looking at the assembly line," said Green waving her arm across a room filled with her partners.
As for the future, Be Free Village wants a wider distribution network, including more hotels and the possible addition of airport gift shops.
"And this is just one of a number of proposed snack boxes," said Farber "We're looking at a fitness pack, and we want to include other allergies, like dairy and peanuts."
Meanwhile, on the other side of Boise, another team of moguls-in-the-making (which came in second place in the B-Launched competition) was preparing to unveil its own innovation--a smartphone app.
"It's called CraySay," said Sarah Wolfe, account manager with the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Riffing off the term "cray cray"--slang for "crazy"--Wolfe said the team added "'say' because that means the things that people are saying through social media, or even an abbreviation for 'savings.'"
One of Wolfe's partners, Gordie Tamayo, owner of TheTitleFight.com, a promoter of professional boxing matches, said his team wanted to target 20-something millennials.
"They're attached to their smartphones 24/7," he said. "And if you can figure out a way to push a store's brand through that medium, you've got a winner."
The CraySay team said the younger the consumer, the less effective traditional media--such as print, radio and network television--becomes.
"The social network isn't a fad; it's here and it's growing by leaps and bounds," said Tamayo. "Millennials throw mail advertisements right into the trash. These are consumers who go online and their purchasing power is only growing more significant."
Tamayo and Wolfe's partner, Mike Miraglio, who spends his days working for Terra Graphics Environmental Engineering, flipped around a laptop to show Boise Weekly a demonstration of how CraySay works.
"We're building a mobile platform that helps store brands connect with consumers at a time that they're most likely to buy something," said Miraglio. "Picture this: You're walking near a store that probably has a Facebook or Twitter account. But as you walk into the location, CraySay sees where you are and pulls all of that information into one simple click. Most businesses are currently spending countless dollars and time constantly trying to improve their social media presence, but our app brings all of it together. As you're walking or driving near a retail location, you'll find out all kinds of things about what's on sale and what's new that interests you in particular. Of course, it uses GPS technology. And the store can track it all and customize it."
Tamayo, ever the salesman, couldn't resist overstating, "You're going to get pure awesomeness."
Awesomeness aside, CraySay was awarded $15,000 for its second-place effort--money that will be used for further product development.
Be Free Village was awarded $29,000.
More importantly, each team of partners was given 49 percent of its company's equity (their mentors were granted 51 percent). The young partners can buy out their mentors, or at least purchase majority ownership of the companies, within two years.