Kombucha startup wins Kellogg Venture Challenge Shark Tank


Source: Jonny San

Kathryn Bernell holds a check after pitching her kombucha startup at the first Kellogg Venture Challenge Shark Tank. The startup features healthy and organic kombucha beverages.

Catherine Kim, Reporter

First-year Kellogg School of Management student Kathryn Bernell went home with a grand prize of $5,000 after pitching and sharing samples from her kombucha startup at the first Kellogg Venture Challenge Shark Tank on Friday.

Eight student-run startups participated in the competition — inspired by the ABC show “Shark Tank” — by giving five-minute pitches and answering questions in front of four judges, who also considered votes cast by audience members. Bernell won first place for her kombucha company, Re-Bucha, which produces drinks using imperfect produce — food she describes as “cosmetically imperfect” — to prevent it from being thrown out.

More than 40 percent of food that is grown and produced in the United States is not consumed, Bernell said. She first decided to launch Re-Bucha because she was passionate about raising awareness and building meaningful systems to combat the “massive” issues surrounding food waste, she said.

“By delivering high-quality products that … have great flavors and still delight customers, (consumers are) being educated that imperfect produce doesn’t mean a lower quality offering,” she said.

Although Re-Bucha is still in its early stages, Bernell has been creating partnerships and gathering consumer feedback. Health food company Protein Bar has already shown interest by agreeing to sell her drinks once Re-Bucha goes into production, she said.

Second-year graduate student Arjita Shrimali, one of the event’s student organizers, said Bernell’s partnerships appealed to the judges, especially because partnerships are important to ensure product distribution for unknown brands in the competitive food industry.

Bernell said she thinks the judges appreciated her “scrappy” approach to testing and launching a brand with her limited existing resources. Now that she has the monetary resources from her prize money and positive feedback from the student body and investors, Bernell said she is ready to produce.

Shrimali said the excitement surrounding the Kellogg Venture Challenge Shark Tank was a good indicator of the growing entrepreneurial community on campus. More than 100 friends and faculty came to support the startups at the competition, giving competition participants a larger platform to introduce products and get the word out, she said.

Steve Farsht — judge and co-founder of venture capital firm Corazon Capital — also stressed the importance of the event in building more opportunities for student entrepreneurship. It gave students a chance to receive feedback from experts in the field to reevaluate their concepts, he said.

“To have your ideas challenged by investors is a good process for you to go to,” he said. “It pushes you to gain the perspective of different investors, challenge yourself to put together a pitch deck, to think of the strategy, and to go to the market opportunity.”

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