By Pushya Jataprolu '16
For a pitch that went right before lunch, in a packed C25, which does not otherwise turn warm, Team Maestro was fervent in it’s purpose, confident of the focus on the young achiever market and extremely excited about the engineering marvel they brought to demo, all the while talking about good food. Putting their product where the mouth is, Team Maestro defied Murphy’s Law and put on a live demonstration of their product- all the judges got a taste of what the Maestro machine can cook and Dean Kumar got a full portion, in no way detracting from the eventual outcome.
Maestro is the winner of the 19th Annual Edward L. Kaplan ‘71 New Venture Challenge - the premier startup program of Chicago Booth, recognized as one of the top accelerators in the US. The finals event for this year was held on Thursday, May 28th, at the Harper Center, with a rumbling and bustling audience in C25 with the overflow constantly being redirected to Room 104 for virtual viewing. Out of nearly 80 teams that applied and 30 that were selected to take the NVC lab, 10 finalists were short listed through eight weeks of rigorous training from the academic advisors, coaches, classroom judges and guests. Team Maestro emerged victorious, with ExplORer and NETenergy sharing second place. Teams Alameda and Taskpath shared third place in the Challenge.
The winning product, Maestro, is a countertop appliance that cooks a fresh, complete meal from custom pods specially designed for the machine, which coordinates timing and temperature to boil, steam and roast meals to perfection. ChiBus tracked down two members of the team, ideator-entrepreneur David Rabie ‘15 and Michael Sokolow, UChicago ‘17 to talk to them about their journey.
ChiBus [CB]: David, could you speak about how the NVC lab prepared you through the eight weeks to get here? How did it affect (hopefully improve) your team dynamics?
David Rabie [DR]: It was a great lab that encouraged and enabled tons of practice in terms of presenting to extremely tough judges, for our own good. Needless to say, a great many hours were spent with the team in perfecting every idea, approach and decision, so the team grew stronger by the day. It was also a great avenue to connect with exactly what we needed, like the Peapod, who will be our first ever suppliers of pods of fresh food material to be cooked.
[CB]: Michael, could you speak about your introduction to Maestro and what motivated you to work on the project?
[Michael]: When I came across the internship posting on Facebook, there wasn't much information in the post, but it emphasized that I could help make "real business decisions" for a startup making a "Keurig of complete meals." As an undergraduate, it can be difficult to convince experienced professionals to trust you to take on meaningful tasks, so I jumped at the chance to make serious contributions to furthering such an incredible concept. And I'm so glad that I did. From day one this team has appreciated what I can bring to the table in the capacity of a Business Operations and Research Associate and shown that they are willing to work ceaselessly to obtain success. The sense that my work at Maestro brings us ever closer to making automated meals a reality for consumers is exhilarating, and I could not be working alongside a better group of people to achieve this end.
[CB]: Maestro seems to be the machine behind future revenue from pods. How will you regulate the supply/price of pods. Do the pod makers have to adhere to certain standards you set?
[DR]: Our plan is to work with several food partners to offer a marketplace of options for our customers. But there will be a serious onboarding process for every partner that we bring onboard. And there will be people on our end ensuring that those partners are making food that fits our brand ethos (healthy, fresh and tasty).
[CB]: At an individual level, where is each of the seven of you going for internship or full-time? Do you guys plan to work together on Maestro, come August?
[DR]: As I mentioned during our 12 minute pitch on Thursday, I will be pursuing Maestro full-time. Aubrey plans to work with Accenture after she graduates and will help with the transition as we bring in additional engineering help. Emily is going to Gatorade full-time and Trina to JP Morgan full-time. Kati will be interning at AB InBev while Pooja will be interning with Maestro itself. Mike is in the process of deciding on his internship. All along, all our team members knew that they wanted to pursue other avenues in the longer term. In a way, this helps avoid mismatched expectations.
[CB]: If there was one and only one attribute to the team’s success at NVC, what would that have been?
[DR]: Practice :)
Pushya is the People Editor at ChiBus