Co-founder, Wise Apple
Shortly before starting his MBA program, Nate Cooper ’17 was invited to speak at Kellogg about his work at L3 Hospitality Group, the franchising arm of LYFE Kitchen that he co-founded with his father. Unbeknownst to him, that experience would lead to the creation of another startup altogether.
Following Cooper’s talk, an audience member took the initiative to connect him with Rebecca Sholiton ’16 and Kara O’Dempsey, two-liked minded people who had similar interests in starting a company in the food industry. They met Cooper to brainstorm a solution to a pain point that O’Dempsey was personally experiencing on a daily basis: not having the time or energy to make healthy lunches for her kids.
“Kara described this problem that she was having, and it was an enormous problem — what people in the startup world would call a ‘morphine problem,’” recalls Cooper. “It was really eye opening to me that no one was solving this. No one was even trying to solve this.”
So Cooper, Sholiton and O’Dempsey banded together to fill that void. Their company, Wise Apple, prepares and delivers lunch “paks” for kids and adults that boast fresh ingredients and innovative combinations. Customers can choose between a variety of menu options or customize their own pak, and they can place orders for delivery up to a month in advance. The menu changes every two weeks; a recent menu featured combinations such as a ham-and-cheese grilled sandwich with a side of banana chips and a blueberry/strawberry mix, or a gluten-free waffle sandwich with cucumbers, mango slices and coconut chips. Each pak costs $6.50.
The team just wrapped up the pilot program for Wise Apple, during which they delivered about 1,000 lunches to customers located within a small radius of Chicago’s North Shore. Cooper, Sholiton and O’Dempsey made all of the paks themselves out of a professional kitchen in Highland Park, and then took turns driving around to make deliveries. At the same time, they conducted a battery of tests to refine their offering, and spent time observing customers interact with the Wise Apple website and product. “We’ve watched kids try out our website, playing around for 30 minutes and customizing their own lunch,” explains Cooper. “We’ve seen kids waiting at the door for their paks to come because it was for them. It’s been a really cool experience.”
Cooper’s role in leading Wise Apple comes naturally, as he hails from a long line of foodies and entrepreneurs. His great-grandfather started a corrugated packaging company, and his grandfather and father founded a produce business. His father was also one of the original investors in LYFE Kitchen. “Food’s always been in my blood,” Cooper says.
Food, he adds, is also a category that’s rich with startup opportunities. “It’s one of the few things that really connects everyone on the planet,” he says. “Eating is something that people do every single day, and there are so many potential businesses within food. No matter what you’re interested in, you can probably find something that interests you in the world of food.”
In the year ahead, Cooper will continue to work on the expansion of Wise Apple while completing his second year at Kellogg and remaining active in L3 Hospitality Group. (Meanwhile, Sholiton and O’Dempsey will focus on Wise Apple full time.) Juggling such a heavy load of responsibilities, however, isn’t stopping Cooper from thinking big about the future of Wise Apple.
“We want to fully integrate ourselves in the supply chains of families,” he says. “We think we’re solving a potential multi-billion-dollar problem that millions of families across the country are facing. Why would people be satisfied with sending their kids to school with Lunchables when there’s a better way?”