Launch Pad: Uma Valeti, Founder of Memphis Meats

Memphis Meats

Meat grown directly from animal cells. It sounds like science fiction, but like so much else in this age of marvels, this hopeful fiction is turning into actual science, at Memphis Meats.

A former cardiologist, founder Uma Valeti was part of a study that was trying to inject cells into patients’ hearts to regrow heart muscle, and he took that idea of growing muscle cells… and ran with it.

Meat grown in a laboratory, rather than raised as livestock, addresses the environmental, ethical, and health issues that plague our current means of getting meat on the table. As Uma explains: “We’re detaching slaughter from meat production.”

This is a true moon shot, a potential disruptor of global proportions. According to Uma, 90% of the world’s population eats meat, and in order to supply that meat, 57 billion land animals are slaughtered every year. What if that all just—stopped?

Listen to Uma and Karl dig in to the scientific, cultural, and business challenges that Memphis Meats faces. And keep an eye out: Uma’s goal is to get Memphis Meats products on the market, in grocery stores and restaurants, within five years. Will you try it?

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One Question: What advice do you give food entrepreneurs? Soom Foods’ Shelby Zitelman WG’07 answers.

Soom Foods, co-founded by Shelby Zitelman WG’07 and her sisters, has been quietly revolutionizing how Americans eat tahini, especially here in Philadelphia, where we can’t get enough of the hummus at award-winning restaurant Zahav (and its sister hummisiya Dizengoff), which is always made with Soom tahini.

We got the chance to ask Shelby Zitelman one question: “What advice do you give other food entrepreneurs?”

Here’s what she said:

Certifications — ROI or a Cost of Doing Business?

By Keith Kohler G’93/WG’93, President of K2 Financing and food industry consultant

Now more than ever in your typical visit to a grocery store (and especially a natural products outlet) you’ll find a large number of products with certifications prominently displayed on the packaging: Kosher, organic, non-GMO, fair trade, and gluten-free are among the most common.

Organic pic sm

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Dessert Maximalism with NOMsense Bakery

By Alina Wong C’16, Rachel Stewart C’16, and Roopa Shankar W’16, Co-founders of NOMsense Bakery

Founded in February of 2014 at the University of Pennsylvania by Alina Wong C’16, Rachel Stewart C’16, and Roopa Shankar W’16, NOMsense Bakery is a cookie business and catering service that has come to represent a passionate hobby turned for-profit business. It all started when, as best friends, we innovated with our own recipes in the kitchen. A friend who received samples mentioned that our desserts were so tasty that she would pay us for our creative bites of indulgence.

Pumpkin snickerdoodle cookies, white chocolate cornflake crunch center, milky sugar drizzle, cornflake crunch topping.
Pumpkin snickerdoodle cookies, white chocolate cornflake crunch center, milky sugar drizzle, cornflake crunch topping.

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Six Financial Tips for Food Businesses

By Keith Kohler G’93/WG’93, President of K2 Financing and food industry consultant

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of advising a wide variety of companies in the food and consumer products spaces.  And I’ve reviewed probably about 10x that amount in business plans and company financials. Along the way, I’ve accumulated a few lessons that continually ring true for startup food businesses:

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Worth a Taste Test

By Matthew Brodsky

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Wharton Magazine blog.

It’s no bologna to say that second-year MBAs Nicole Marie Capp and Justin Matthew Sapolsky, W’08, are in the midst of a dream: starting their own food business.

Capp comes from a food family that operates high-end delis in Brooklyn, N.Y. Sapolsky, an investor before returning to Wharton, wrote his Wharton MBA entrance essay about getting into the food business.

“Being at Wharton definitely put the gas on that,” he told me, related how he has been able to realize his dream and passion while at School: With the food startup Matt & Marie’s Modern Italian Sandwiches.

Matt and Marie's
Second-year Wharton MBAs Justin Matthew Sapolsky, W’08, and Nicole Marie Capp earned Twitter praise after they catered an event this past fall for Wharton entrepreneurs.

As the story goes, the pair met as vice presidents of the Wharton Entrepreneurship Club in November 2012. By January 2013, they were launching Matt & Marie’s as a catering operation. They worked during the summer out of the Wharton MBA space at 2401 Walnut St. (open as free office space to MBA entrepreneurs) and tapped into Wharton Entrepreneurship resources as part of the Venture Initiation Program (VIP). Through fall 2013, they had catered as many as 25 events around campus. For cooking, they were sharing kitchen space at Enterprise Center at West Philly, a health-grade commercial kitchen that allows operations to rent by the hour.

I initially reached out to Matt & Marie’s during research for a food truck article (still ongoing), and couldn’t resist learning more about delicious sandwiches even after Sapolsky told me they decided against a food truck because they’ve tested their concept already through catering.

Their plan instead, reported Sapolsky, is to have a lease signed on a Center City brick-and-mortar location by the time this article is posted. And by the end of the school year, Capp and Sapolsky may be ready to open the storefront. In the meantime, Sapolsky will do an independent study with OPIM (Operations and Information Management) Professor Eric K. Clemons, who has served as an advisor to Matt & Marie’s. That way, Sapolsky and Capp will also get academic credit as they tend to their kitchen, literally.

The dream is all boot-strapped at the moment, but also scalable. And that gets to why Sapolsky and Capp may have chosen the food business (besides being passionate foodies). Sapolsky noted how Matt & Marie’s menu is simple, much like many of the other restaurants that have exploded on the scene in recent years—the likes of Chipotle, Five Guys Burger and Fries, and Potbelly. Though they chose to open Matt & Marie’s first store in Philadelphia, a town with a lot of authentic Italian eateries, a lot of places don’t, Sapolsky was quick to note.

Fascinating, too, was Sapolsky’s perspective on the startup scene in general. There is a veritable buffet of Internet and tech startups on campus, and beyond.

“There’s room for people to still focus on brick and mortar,” he said.

Particularly, if they also focus on bread, meats and toppings.

It sounds like they are. Sapolsky’s favorite item on the Matt & Marie’s menu is the Roman Cavalry.

“Our chef designed all the sandwiches to balance the five flavor profiles: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. This one does it really well. It has cured coppa, fennel salami, genoa, aged provolone cheese, house-made sweet pickled peppers and a spicy peperoncini aioli on our seeded Italian bread.”

Expect a taste testing of this startup as soon as possible …

Update: Matt & Marie’s has now signed a lease on a location in Center City, and they expect to open in late Spring 2014. Want to go to the soft opening event? Sign up here.