Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Spring 2006Kellogg School of Management
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  Meredith Lincoln '00 and Leslie Sagalowicz '00

Alumni Profile: Meredith Lincoln '00 and Leslie Sagalowicz '00

Expectant returns
Two Kellogg peers feed their entrepreneurial urge by launching a venture that delivers a nutritious snack for pregnant women

By Sandra Guy

Meredith Lincoln '00 and Leslie Sagalowicz connected immediately at a 1999 happy hour for aspiring entrepreneurs. The two Kellogg School Class of 2000 graduates had some important things in common.

A predilection for business went back two generations in Lincoln's family: Her mother owns a travel agency and her grandfather owned a butcher shop. Sagalowicz (pictured, left, with Lincoln), meanwhile, had decided to leverage her experience as a political campaign veteran to make a difference in the commercial world.

They began planning their own business, along with friend and fellow Kellogg alum Laura Hollister '00. The trio quickly realized that their idea for a men's spa, complete with stock tickers, mahogany wood and a special skin-care line, required too much capital to start.

"It ended up being a very good exercise in defining a business that hadn't been created before," says Sagalowicz.

Lincoln, 34, and Sagalowicz, 33, stayed in their upwardly mobile careers but remained vigilant for a viable entrepreneurial path.

Prior to enrolling at the Kellogg School, Sagalowicz worked in politics and government, and in 1996 the democratic foundation she led helped elect Loretta Sanchez, a Latina from Orange County, to Congress. After Sagalowicz earned her MBA, she joined Siebel Systems and later a software startup.

Investment banking had attracted Lincoln before her Kellogg career, and she had lived in Argentina. After graduating from Kellogg, she also joined Siebel Systems, where she worked in the financial services product management group. She later did a stint in commercial real estate and for a virtual call-center startup.

Once again, the two women were inspired in their entrepreneurial dreams by friends, several of whom were pregnant and lamenting the lack of great-tasting nutritious snacks. Many of the women also had trouble swallowing the standard "horse pills" containing the required vitamins.

Sagalowicz and Lincoln spent five months developing a business plan and analyzing whether a venture serving this niche market was feasible. They credit lessons learned at Kellogg with helping them arrive at their conclusions.

The duo had saved money for years and, with financial help from friends and families, started building their business with a six-figure sum. Sagalowicz also risked making a cold call to renowned prenatal nutritionist Judith Brown.

"We told her what we were doing. She loved the idea and put herself behind it," Sagalowicz says.

Indeed, Brown became a consultant to NutraBella and lent her expertise. The result was Bellybar, a soft granola-like treat filled with nutrition for women before, during and after pregnancy.

NutraBella's founders, who are single and have no children, produced a "beta" version of Bellybar within six months of the company's launch and it proved a success. Bellybar is now sold in more than 1,000 stores, including baby, maternity, grocery and natural-food stores.

The start-up experience hasn't been without a few tough lessons. Several rivals launched pregnancy nutrition bars just four months after NutraBella was born.

"You think, 'Oh my gosh. What should we do?'" says Sagalowicz.

The two forged ahead and have differentiated their product from rivals' through shrewd packaging and marketing. The Bellybar's wrapping has a window so shoppers can see the fresh ingredients, and the wrapper's pink and light-blue colors are meant to evoke soothing feelings while touting the fact that a panel of obstetricians and gynecologists have given their seal of approval.

Lincoln and Sagalowicz operate NutraBella from a former Siebel Systems office in San Mateo, Calif., and expect to hire their first employees soon. They have formed a partnership with another 30 to 40 people, agencies and companies to conduct sales, marketing, legal work and research and development.

The Kellogg alums intend to make NutraBella profitable within the next year, and they don't rule out seeking angel or institutional financing to handle the company's growth.

Their advice to would-be entrepreneurs? Be prepared, because a new venture costs twice as much as initially expected and takes twice as long to gain traction and deliver results. But the rewards, not unlike those of parenthood, can be rich and sustained.

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University