Unfortunately, they warn, creating that network and finding mentors who will support what some might consider an outlandish idea isn’t easy. It requires entrepreneurs to cast a wide net with the tools they have available, and to know that just because one person says no doesn’t mean the next person will, too.
“A lot of times you talk to people who are just like, oh no, sorry, that has never been done before, and that is the end of that story, and they make you feel like whatever you want – your vision – is not possible,” Sheetal Bahirat, CEO and co-cofounder of Hidden Gems Beverage Co., told FoodNavigator-USA.
“But,” she added, “if you look hard enough and leave no stone unturned, you will definitely find people in the industry that believe in it just as much as you do.”
Bahirat is speaking from experience. She explained that when she and her co-founder Zuri Masud came up with the idea to create a functional beverage from avocado seeds – not the fruit – many experts told them that what they wanted to do couldn’t be done or at a minimum that they weren’t sure how to help.
Hidden Gems Beverage Co. found the support it needed at SOSV’s accelerator Food-X, where it spent last fall testing ideas that many “experts” said were impossible, and learning how to build a business as part of the group’s 10th cohort.
Bahirat said she was drawn to Food-X based on its track record helping other innovative companies chart new paths.
“I felt like they always worked with really interesting companies that were trying to do something very innovative, and figured that they would have the right people who had the right mindset,” to help her do what she wanted the way she wanted, she said.
With the help of Food-X experts and mentors, Bahirat and Masud are preparing to launch their functional beverage Reveal, which Bahirat said “is an antioxidant rich beverage that is made from avocado seeds. It has got three times the amount of antioxidants than a green tea and it has probiotics from the apple cider vinegar and is a zero calorie beverage.”
She compared its taste to that of a kombucha, but she said that consumers can feel good about buying it because it not only is good for their health but also the health of the planet.
“Reveal basically started when we found out that we throw away 15 million pounds of avocado seeds in the trash every single week, and most of these are going to the landfill and they get trapped between layers of plastic creating greenhouse gases and toxins,” Bahirat said.
Not only is that harmful for the planet, but it is also wasteful because the seeds are the most nutritious part of the avocado, she said, noting they contain 58% of the antioxidants of the whole avocado.
“We just thought this was a massive waste, and we wanted to change that. We felt like there was something we could do with it and we wanted to change the story of the avocado seed,” she said.
Recognizing that not everyone has access to the resources available at accelerators like Food-X, the founders’ of Hidden Gems encourage other entrepreneurs to use LinkedIn and other networking tools to connect with experts and potential champions.
To get the most out of LinkedIn, Bahirat said she wasn’t shy about requesting connections and directly explaining in the opening message why she wanted to connect and what she wanted from the person she was reaching out. She also regularly went through connections’ contacts to see who else might be able to advance her cause or give Hidden Gems Beverage Co. a boost.
As useful as networking can be, it is a big time-investment and entrepreneurs who are building connections must effectively manage their time in meetings to ensure that they have the information and resources they need to simultaneously build their business.
Masud said one of the most important lessons that she learned while at Food-X was how to effectively manage her time and get the most out of networking meetings.
“We had to manage so much of the daily tasks we had to get done every day, but also there was this added benefit of networking and meeting people – but those meetings take up time. So, how is it that we can go into the meeting in an efficient way, ask the questions we to extract all the information we need, and then take that info and actually do something with it,” she said.
The answer is to create a list of questions and talking points before each meeting that can help keep the get-together on course, or else risk having “great chemistry with somebody and realize you guys spent half the time talking about your favorite drink.”
Maximizing the avocado
Beyond launching Relieve, the duo behind Hidden Gems sees significant potential for creating other ingredients and products with avocado seeds and skin – plus other food scraps that traditionally would be considered trash but which offer more value if considered creatively.
“There is so much we can do just with the avocado seed. We can do thinks like potentially make a beer, we could potentially make a sugar, we could make vinegar, we can make a water, we can ferment and make a kombucha even,” Bahirate said.
But, for now, she added, the company is taking one step at a time and is focusing on getting the beverage into consumers hands and raising a seed funding round.
“There is a lot of potential for the future, but because of where we are right now we just want to get it down with one thing people are excited about,” she said.