In this series, we talk to student and alumni entrepreneurs about how they are making an impact with their startups.
Venture: Frontier Nutrition Inc. develops, manufactures, and markets delicious and affordable fortified snacks that satisfy cravings and help treat and prevent malnutrition among consumers in frontier markets, starting in Bangladesh.
Founder: Eddie Bearnot ’17
What was the moment when you had the idea for this startup?
In Bangladesh, as in much of Asia, drinking tea is a way of life. It’s how people measure time, take breaks, connect with their friends and neighbors outside of the home or office. Chai wallahs—tea sellers—are ubiquitous on every road, from the densest urban chaos to the most rural outposts.
After moving to Bangladesh in 2012, I spent most days driving around the industrial areas outside the capital, conducting research in garment factories. Stopping for tea became a cherished part of every day.
One afternoon, we stopped outside of a factory, and I looked around for something to eat that wasn’t just empty calories. Despite dozens of options at $.05 or $.10 a piece, all were little more than carbs, sugar, and salt. None had meaningful amounts of protein, vitamins, minerals, or even fat.
I realized then that millions of families across the country—many of whom suffer from malnutrition—needed and deserved better, healthier snack options.
What’s the problem you’re trying to solve or the gap that you’re trying to fill?
Despite the third fastest growing economy in the world and billions of dollars of annual development aid, Bangladesh continues to have high rates of malnutrition. Nearly half of children and pregnant women are malnourished, causing more than 300,000 deaths a year and reducing economic productivity by more than $2.8 billion annually.
At the same time, the snack market in Bangladesh is growing even faster than the economy, with rising incomes driving increased consumption of biscuits, chocolates, chips, candy, and other cheap packaged foods. In neighboring India, which is wealthier and has a more developed packaged food industry, less than 15% of the products available could be considered “healthy,” and less than 8% could be considered appropriate to market to children.
Leveraging traditional FMCG (fast-moving consumer good) strategies, we’re riding a wave of growth in snack consumption to bring nutritious and affordable options to BoP (bottom of pyramid) consumers who suffer disproportionately from malnutrition.
What was the most important resource Yale SOM contributed to your startup?
SOM was an incubator and launch pad for this business in so many ways. The most important resource was, by far, my classmates. They were (are!) my brain trust. They participated in focus groups and ideation sessions, read and revised dozens of business plans and pitch decks, gave critical feedback, and provided motivation and support when things were grim—which was often.
Many of my courses and professors provided invaluable skills, insights, and guidance, and I was lucky enough to be able to work on my company as part of my coursework in more than a few instances. Most useful, though, was the Strategies for Selling New Products in Emerging Markets course, taught by Mushfiq Mobarak. As the name suggests, the content was incredibly relevant.
Barry Nalebuff provided invaluable advice and guidance, as well as a key introduction to Shazi Visram (founder of Happy Family), who became our first investor and super evangelist for our products and mission.
Finally, it would have been impossible to take the leap to build this business after graduation without the support of the founders community in “The Bunker” (the Honest Tea Entrepreneurial Studies Suite in Evans Hall). I spent more time in the basement of Evans Hall than anywhere else in New Haven. The founders, faculty, and advisors there—not to mention unlimited snacks, gym, and a comfy nap spot under my desk—were essential.
A special shout out to Jenn McFadden and Kyle Jensen and my bunker mates who have continued on to build their (incredible) businesses after SOM: Ignacio Martinez ’17 (Alana), Stephen Kump ’17 (CharityVest), Zoë Lloyd Geller ’17 (Wildkind), Eugene Kozunov ’17 (Remotable), and Will Sealy ’17 (Summer).
What’s the biggest milestone your startup has hit since graduation?
Our products are now for sale in more than 15,000 retail shops across the country, which means that every day more than 10 million consumers have access to healthy and better-for-you options that treat and prevent malnutrition.