This NYC Startup Was Inspired by the Dalai Lama, Funded by Nas, and Involves Crickets…




Trying to reach your daily protein intake can be annoying. Milk irritates your stomach, you feel bad eating meat every meal, and almonds just aren’t cutting it. Where else can you turn? The Cricket industry! Exo, the protein bars powered by cricket flour will give you the protein to hop like a cricket and keep up with your recent Paleo diet! With flavors ranging from chocolate to apple cinnamon, you’ll quickly jump on the bandwagon of Exo lovers which include the New York Times, TechCrunch, and Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

Cofounders Greg Sewitz and Gabi Lewis join us today to chat about the the company’s inception, crickets as a food, and the recent round of funding.

Who were your investors and how much did you raise?

We have raised a $4M Series A. The round was led by AccelFoods an early-stage venture capital firm focused on food and beverage companies, from their new growth fund.

Other investors include best-selling musician Nas, three-time Tough Mudder Champion Amelia Boone. The round also included participation from previous investors including Collaborative Fund, Tim Ferriss, and Start Garden.

Tell us about your product or service.

Launched in 2014, Exo is the market leader in insect-based protein. The company makes nutritious, tasty and sustainable food bars using cricket flour and simple, ultra-premium ingredients. Formulated by a three-Michelin-star chef, the bars are designed as a meal replacement, on-the-go snack, or pre/post exercise nutrient boost. All products are free of gluten, soy, dairy, artificial preservatives and refined sugars.

What inspired you to start the company?

Greg, one of the co-founders of Exo, had just attended a conference at MIT hosted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on climate change and resource scarcity, who mentioned that insects were a sustainable protein source. After hearing this and talking to his dorm roommate and now co-founder Gabi about the need for a really tasty, nutritional and sustainable protein bar, they both set our minds on making the best possible protein bar out of one of the most revolutionary protein sources in nature – cricket flour.

How is it different?

Our products are made from insects! Unlike other energy or protein bars on the market that can often be thinly-veiled candy bars, our bars are made from all natural ingredients and contain no dairy, refined sugars, gluten, or soy. We also prioritize premium ingredients and taste – our development partner, Kyle Connaughton from Pilot R+D, is a Michelin star chef and plays an integral role in the creation of all our bars.

What market you are targeting and how big is it?

Our bars are for anybody looking for a better, tastier and more sustainable alternative protein bar. Our customers come in all shapes and sizes – hikers, moms, CrossFitters, office workers, and everybody in between.

What’s your business model?

We’re an online retailer, and are stocked in various physical retailers such as Whole Foods, Wegman’s (which we just launched in as of this week), Cibo Express and select gyms and health food boutique stores.

How do you get past the stigma of people who are apprehensive about eating insects??

By making the taste and ingredients of our bars a priority – challenging entrenched perceptions of eating insects can be a difficult task, so we make sure that our bars are easy to love as soon as customers get past the initial challenge of eating insects. Having a Michelin-star chef as our development partner and all-natural ingredients helps with this.

What was the funding process like?

It was exciting – we were introduced to many fantastic investors and thought leaders in a wide range of fields, and it was great to get different perspectives on the business. It was also encouraging to see so much enthusiasm about insect protein from all different types of leaders.

What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?

Luckily for us there weren’t many challenges, as our idea and our team are very strong – but one of the minor challenges we face as entrepreneurs is our age and experience. We’re both founders with minimal prior experience – we started Exo straight after graduating Brown. This can also be a benefit for us, though, since we have a fresh perspective and great contrasting backgrounds that help balance our partnership.

What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?

Many of our investors, like Accel, Collab and Tim Ferriss had participated in our seed round and have been our biggest supporters and fans – they’ve seen the growth of the insect protein market and the growth of Exo as a company, so they were more than happy to continue supporting us by participating in our Series A.

Some of our newer investors, such as Nas and Amelia Boone, who is a three-time world Tough Mudder champion, was drawn to our company because of the sustainability aspect and the gap that we fill – a tasty, nutritious and sustainable protein bar made from one of nature’s most revolutionary protein sources. They understand the potential impact of insects as a protein source.

What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?

Expanding our retail presence, bolstering our current product line and continuing to tweak our recipes in order make Exo bars the best possible product it can be.

What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?

To focus on constantly improving and perfecting their product or service – if the idea and the execution are great, the capital will follow.

Where do you see the company going now over the near term?

We’re going to use the funding to start building our product line beyond protein bars for the very first time – cricket flour as an ingredient has incredible potential, and we look forward to creating a wide range of products using insects.

We’ll also continue to expand our physical retail presence, grow our team and tinker with our recipes and release new flavors.

What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?

Ceveceria Havemeyer, Mission Chinese, Pok Pok, Jeepney – we have so many.

About the author: AlleyWatch

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