Co-founder, Wise Apple
When launching a startup, entrepreneurs say there’s a surprise around every corner, and Rebecca Sholiton ’16 got her first one right out of the gate.
The idea for Wise Apple was just starting to take shape when Sholiton and her co-founders Nate Cooper ’17 and Kara O’Dempsey decided to test its viability using a simple experiment on Facebook. They posted a note on the page of a local mom’s group, asking if anyone wanted to purchase a week’s worth of Wise Apple lunches for their kids attending summer camp. To the team’s shock, 300 parents signed up within nine hours.
“That was the first moment when we said, ‘Okay, this is a pretty good idea,’” says Sholiton. “People like this.”
That may be an understatement. Wise Apple, which prepares and delivers healthy lunch “paks” for kids and adults, has already secured $750,000 in capital from angel investors that include Larry Levy of Levy Restaurants and Scott Mandell from Enjoy Life Foods. It’s won hefty awards from several startup competitions, including the New Venture Challenge and Publicis90, and was admitted to the elite accelerator program TechStars Chicago, which accepts only 1 percent of applicants.
At its core, Wise Apple is powerful because it solves a problem that’s both painful and pervasive for busy parents, who often don’t have the time, energy or motivation to pack a healthy lunch for themselves or their kids. The product itself is also exceptionally high quality and features customizable options for kids and adults. 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.
Another source of strength for Wise Apple is the fact that it was incubated at Kellogg. While taking entrepreneurship courses and completing the Zell Fellows Program, Sholiton tapped into multiple resources and mentors to develop, test and launch the startup. In one course, she completed a digital marketing project that changed how the founders approached their marketing on Facebook. In another class, she teamed up with students on a supply chain project and completed an operations model to determine the scalability of the business. She was also able to turn to her peers and professors for help with practical issues like setting up an accounting system and reviewing operational agreements.
“Everybody in the Kellogg entrepreneurship program said, ‘Any support you need for this business, let us know. We have an open-door policy and we’re here to help,’” says Sholiton. “They helped me grow exponentially as a leader and as an entrepreneur.”
With this, Sholiton has achieved what she set out to do in coming to Kellogg. A third-generation entrepreneur, she began her career as a consultant for Deloitte and then spent three years in Lima, Peru, building education programs for female entrepreneurs. Eventually, she realized, “I’m sick of being on this side,” Sholiton recalls. “I want to be on the other side and build something.” Applying and enrolling at Kellogg was the first step.
As Wise Apple gears up for the back-to-school rush, Sholiton and the team are pounding the pavement, setting up tents at summer festivals and working to develop partnerships with local businesses and companies. At its heart, Sholiton says, Wise Apple is a Chicago company, but with lofty ambitions for the future.“I want Wise Apple to be a household name,” she says. “I want kids to be talking about Wise Apple in the lunchroom. I want parents to view us as a partner that's there for them. We are a company they can trust and love.”