Have you ever seen misshapen, partially bruised fruits and vegetables at the grocery store and avoided them for the shinier, “healthier looking” produce? If you have, you’re not alone. Approximately 50 percent of food produced in the U.S. is discarded each year – including 10.1 million tons of produce that never leave farms – because of arbitrary cosmetic “standards.”
Kathryn Bernell – winner of the 2018 Power Pitch competition held during the Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference in Atlanta in June – wants to change the way we think about food and the food waste that plagues our society.
In pursuit of a double bottom line
Kathryn came up with the idea for reBLEND while she was pursuing an MBA at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and a Master of Science in Design Innovation at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering. While she always led an active lifestyle and had an interest in the connection between food and health, her passion increased after working in the food and beverage industry, including four years at Clif Bar & Co.
As Kathryn explains, “Working at Clif Bar set the stage for me to understand the role and value of having a business with multiple bottom lines. Clif exposed me to the world of food justice and the livelihoods of our farmers, the men and women on the front line of our ability to eat delicious and fresh foods. I began to understand how food waste practices result in farmers sometimes losing up to a third of their harvests when the harvests are not deemed commercial grade and, therefore, sellable.”
Finding support with Power Pitch audience
Kathryn’s message resonated with the Power Pitch audience – approximately 800 MBA students, business professionals, and three esteemed judges – and they selected reBLEND to win both the judges’ selection and audience favorite awards. reBLEND received $10,000 for winning both awards. Kathryn plans to invest her award funds to hire a package designer who will create high quality, professional packaging that will also enable reBLEND to share its story with consumers.
|Name of business||Representative||Business school|
|Adoptimize||Jessica Schleder||University of Southern California (Marshall School of Business)|
|EmbraceBox||Angelise Hadley||University of Texas at Austin (McCombs School of Business)|
|Openbook Labs||Ye Han||University of Pennsylvania (Wharton School)|
Judges evaluated each team based on how convincingly they presented their business concept as if they were potential investors. According to Arrion Rathsack, Director of Forté’s MBA and Professional Programs and the competition’s founder, “Each year, it amazes me to see these women pitch their ideas in the bright lights on stage, in front of 500+ peers.
“Kathryn Bernell’s presentation gave a clear picture of her product and demonstrated the potential for long-term success. She clearly communicated a depth of knowledge and research related to her target market.”
The 2018 Power Pitch competition judges were:
- Terry Blum, Director of the Georgia Tech’s Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship
- Lisa Calhoun, Founder of Valor Ventures
- Aaron Hurst, Managing Director and Founder, Endeavor Atlanta
Tips for entrepreneurial success
Launching a business while still a student has its challenges, but being at Kellogg provided a safety net and access to remarkable resources. In addition to her fellow MBA classmates who supported her in launching reBLEND, Kathryn says the “world class professors” at Kellogg were a “luxury you cannot underestimate” in helping to achieve her vision.
She also offers this advice to young women who may be considering an entrepreneurial route: “Take the time to understand what you are passionate about. I knew what I cared about from day one [at business school], and it allowed me to filter out what I wasn’t interested in. There are so many shiny objects in business school, but I came to the table with an interest in helping fix the food industry and its broken pieces.”
Future consumers of reBLEND will be glad she has stayed true to her path.
About the Forté Power Pitch competition
The purpose of the Forté Power Pitch competition is to encourage and support aspiring women entrepreneurs by offering a high-profile, real-world challenge at the Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference, now in its 15th year. The spirit of the competition is to focus on ideas that are conceived and/or further developed as part of the business school experience.
Statistics reflect the urgent need for increased focus on women-founded/owned businesses in the U.S. Only 17 percent of venture capital-backed companies are founded by women and, in 2017, women received just 2 percent of venture capital funding. The Forté Pitch competition provides an opportunity to grow the ranks of women entrepreneurs by demonstrating to women at top MBA programs – some of whom are aspiring entrepreneurs – how it can be done.