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Target Forward Founders: Meet the Cohort

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Target Forward Founders: Meet the Cohort

This is the fifth installment in an interview series with the 2021 Target Forward Founders cohort. Participating companies are sharing details about their innovative companies in their own words. All interviews have been conducted by the Target Forward Founders Program Management team.

Meet Awesome Bites Co.

Allergy Friendly Awesomeness: the awesome sauce in our treats isn’t what we exclude it’s what we include.

About the founder, Jennifer Thai

CEO & Founder, Jennifer Thai

In 2015, Jennifer Thai, motivated by her baby’s food allergies, founded the Awesome Bites Co. – an allergy friendly, health-conscious food startup with the goal of reinventing treats. She is the Founder and Chief Officer of Awesome at the company and creator of magically healthy baked goods, mixes and n’ice creams. Awesome Bites Co is best known for their Super Muffins, plant-based muffins only sweetened with whole servings of fruits and vegetables. The company opened its retail front in Houston in 2019. Prior to founding Awesome Bites, Jennifer spent a decade in finance and investment analysis in the oil & gas industry, mostly notably at BP where she worked on multiple billion-dollar projects. Jennifer holds an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, as well as a Bachelor’s in Economics from Rice University. She has also won multiple business pitches and has held an Advisory Board position for the City of Houston’s Office of Business Opportunity.

TT: What was the inspiration behind your brand?

Jennifer: The Awesome Bites’ journey began when my daughter Aurora was diagnosed with egg and peanut allergies just before her 1st birthday. And for the life of me, I couldn’t find safe treats made with actual real ingredients that I’d want feed to my child, so I got in the kitchen and did something about it. Aurora’s treats turned into Super Muffins (muffins made with whole fruits & veggies instead of sugar, eggs & butter), which we started selling at farmer’s markets about 5 years ago.   At 4.5 yrs old she miraculously outgrew both allergies but I had already found my calling. Being Chinese, I grew up eating together and showing love by feeding others. And through Aurora I knew how hard it was to find good tasting safe foods made with real ingredients and also how important it is for people with food restrictions to really feel included. Awesome Bites represents an intersection of my heritage, passion for food, and a mother’s love where inclusion equals love.   Awesome Bite’s mission is food inclusion, which is more than just making food that’s safe for some, it’s making food everyone wants a bite of that doesn’t send someone to the hospital. Bringing awesome people together over better foods they can share.

TT: What are you expecting out of the Target Forward Founders program?

Jennifer: In the bustle and hustle of entrepreneurship, especially one running our first brick and mortar during the pandemic, we don’t spend enough time connecting with fellow entrepreneurs or prioritizing the bigger long-term strategy of Awesome Bites. We are excited to connect with like-minded CPG entrepreneurs in similar stage of their business.   The future of Awesome Bites is to make our treats accessible to more people and to normalize eating plant based, allergy friendly foods everywhere; from the toddler in Montessori school to duffle bags in locker rooms to snacks at the office. The only way we can do that effectively is through retail shelves. We expect to gain a path forward to successfully scale and grow Awesome Bites into retail stores.

TT: What do you think your company is missing that the program can help with?

Jennifer: We make a number of allergy friendly treats with varying shelf life and competitors so selecting the right product to expand into distribution is difficult without insight on the buyer side of retail. We hope the program takes out the guess work and imparts lessons learned to reduce unnecessarily missteps.

Meet Buzz Lite.

Stop feeling baked off your beans, speciality coffee with a microdose of caffeine.

About the founder, Andrew Cooper

A man of moderation, I’m a fan of doing a little bit of the fun stuff in life.

CEO & Founder, Andrew Cooper

TT: What was the inspiration behind your brand?

Andrew: ? Like a bad tequila night, I overdid it with regular coffee. ? I switched to tea, but it just wasn’t the same. I missed the taste, smell, and ritual of coffee. ?‍♀️ So I started dabbling in the dark arts of decaf. ☠️ But decaf has a huge stigma around it, I even have a friend with a “death before decaf tattoo”. ? So Buzz Lite was born. A low caff coffee for those of use who love coffee, but hate the jitters, anxiety, and losing sleep.

TT: What are you expecting out of the Target Forward Founders program?

Andrew: Launching a brand, especially during this pandemic, has been very much a solo effort. I’m excited to work alongside fellow founders and to soak up as much info as I can from the Target mentors.

TT: What do you think your company is missing that the program can help with?

Andrew: As a bit of a digital nomad, retail is entirely new to me. I’m hoping to learn more about the ins and outs of what it takes to get a product on shelves.

TT: What makes you unique compared to your competitors in the marketplace?

Andrew: To put simply, we just make low caff coffee, no added ingredients or adaptogens that you need ta PHD to decipher.

Meet Ezra Coffee Co.

Ezra Coffee is a speciality coffee brand that connects coffee, culture and history.

About the founder, Jessica Taylor

CEO & Founder, Jessica Taylor

Jessica M. Taylor is a Diversity and Inclusion consultant, where she consults a portfolio of clients on their diversity and inclusion strategies. She most recently led external engagement initiatives and diversity and inclusion programming at Toyota. Where she was responsible for leading and executing diversity & inclusion strategies and multicultural partnerships across Toyota’s North American operations. Notably, she steered a $4 million-dollar global HBCU strategy and national scholarship & internship repository, partnering with organizations like the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), Thurgood Marshall Foundation and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition to assist students in securing financial support and full-time employment opportunities. To date, Jessica has assisted students gain acceptance to over 45 colleges in 22 states with over 3 million dollars in need and merit based funding. A strategic thinker, former educator, and policy advocate, Jessica is an emerging voice on the national scene, engaging audiences on the topics of diversity, educational equity, and corporate responsibility. She’s been saluted among leaders as a 2021 Leader in Diversity by the Dallas Business Journal and her work has been featured in Essence, Rollingout Magazine, BounceTV and countless online and print editorials. As an entrepreneur, Taylor is also the owner of Ezra Coffee Company, a specialty and ethically sourced coffee line that celebrates our collective american history, through flavored and infused blends. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Junior League and 100 Black Women. Jessica holds degrees from Belmont Abbey College and Indiana University.

TT: What was the inspiration behind your brand?

Jessica: As a former educator and avid coffee drinker, I started Ezra with two things in mind, how can I connect my love for coffee and history and make a positive impact within my community. My love for coffee is what led me to having coffee from over 15 countries in my home, as I would purchase different blends during my travels. Using these coffees and others, I began roasting and flavoring coffee in my home in small batches for my friends and one shared “You should sell this!” From there I began to research different blends and their origins because I really wanted our blends and their names to speak not only to the coffee but also highlight some amazing events and people in our collective American history. From the Adinkra symbology, to the tribal stripes, our signature blends Lorde Baldwin, King Malcolm, 64th and Tulsa, Le Grand Duc 1928, Toasted Southern Pecan and Candied Yams tell those stories, the ones of triumph, inclusion, love, progression and equality.

TT: What are you expecting out of the Target Forward Founders program?

Jessica: As a participant in the Forward Founders program, I hope to learn how to be successful in larger retail markets, how to identify, source and optimize resources, grow and expand my network as a member of the cohort model, mentorship that can assist me in the day to day operations of scaling my business.

TT: What makes you unique compared to your competitors in the marketplace?

Jessica: Ezra Coffee blends provide a coffee experience from the novice to the most experienced coffee drinker. Our roast vary from medium to dark roast and even included flavored blends. Currently we are the only black owned brand that offers a spirit infused (scotch/cognac) blend. From our flavors, to our blend names, to our use of Adinkra symbology, our goal is to celebrate the our collective American history, people, and places that make our culture great—and to share that culture with all coffee lovers. Our goal is not just for one to enjoy our coffee, but to also say “Wow, I didn’t know that” after each cup. Our commitment to education does not just end with our packaging, but also serves as the foundation of our Beanie x Scholars Program. Through this program we will donate a portion of our proceeds to assist current collegiate students matriculate through and graduate from accredited 4 year colleges and universities.

To learn more about each brand or to shop their products, click on their logos below!

Post topic(s): Target Forward Founders Early-stage

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