By Nancy Dahlberg
Making shopping in bricks and mortar stores fun again with a gamified discovery app. A specialty liquor made with real fruit and infused cinnamon. Or a service providing an in-home personal chef, mainly geared to busy families.
Such a choice for the judges at Babson WIN Lab Miami’s closing event for the accelerator's third cohort of female entrepreneurs, where those three companies, Arvisl Future, Apple Playa and Koki, competed for cash and prizes Tuesday night.
Did she have the judges eating out of her hand or were they just really hungry? We may never know, but Koki founder and CEO Tiara Miles wowed them with her pitch and took home the big check -- $5,000 -- at the packed event at Intercontinental Miami.
After carrying around an idea book for months jotting down ideas, Miles decided about a year ago to start an in-home dining experience. But she pivoted when she discovered that what her customers – mainly affluent families with kids – really wanted was for the chef to come cook for them once a week and prepare four family-size meals. With the help of the WIN Lab, which she found out about because someone anonymously nominated her, she worked on everything from refining the menus to building a team of five to executing influencer marketing campaigns.
Miles isn’t a chef herself – “I just love food” – but she has assembled a contracted team of vetted chefs from some of South Florida’s best restaurants and culinary schools. Koki, which means chef in Sudanese, provides menus online for customers to choose from. The meals are made of organic ingredients, which are included in the plan that the customer purchases.
The chef does the shopping, cooking and cleanup. “One booking with Koki saves a chef six hours of time,” she pitched. “Why cook when you can Koki?”
For now, the service is available in the tri-county area but Miles hopes to expand to other cities next year. “We have customers who use us every week but I would say the average is every other week,” said Miles. Some use it occasionally during particularly busy periods.
WIN Lab was “an incredible experience,” Miles said, “We all grew together and just pushed each other forward.”
Apple Playa, pitched by CEO Jodi Darren, took second place. Apple Playa is a specialty premium liqueur made with real fruit and infused cinnamon and designed to be enjoyed with friends. “Millennials want healthier cocktails, authentic experiences and premium craft products. But most importantly, their influencer mentality created a need for new products they can discover, introduce and share,” she said.
During the program, Darren said the company implemented new software sales systems, improved its formula, increased sales, added new accounts and secured a statewide Florida distributor.
Krystal Zheng, CEO of Arvisl Future, won third place. Its initial product, SAVR, is a gamified mobile application that is bringing back traffic to physical stores. “I found a solution that provides interesting and relevant digital experiences for consumers at real life locations with augmented reality,” she said. The startup just launched its first customer acquisition campaign and is preparing a second.
“So much has happened in a short period of time, they launched new products, they hired new team members, they tested a lot, they pivoted and they even acquired new companies. We are so proud of their accomplishments,” said Michelle Abbs, who runs WIN Lab Miami, a five-month-long accelerator and mentoring program for female founders. Abbs pointed out this kind of growth is far from the norm. About 90 percent of women-owned businesses employ no staff other than the owners; less than 2 percent of venture capital goes to women founders.
Applications for Cohort 4 open April 8 and the accelerator is free, thanks to support from the Knight Foundation, FedEx and others. Based on Babson’s successful WIN Lab program in Boston, WIN Lab Miami launched in 2016.
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