This is the eighth installment in an interview series with the 2021 Target Forward Founders cohort. Participating companies are sharing details about their innovative companies in their own words. All interviews have been conducted by the Target Forward Founders Program Management team.
Plant-based convenience foods with nutritional density
About the founder.
Joycelyn is a Chef with a background in Biomedical Science. She uses the intersection of these two fields to create optimal foods/food products and educate her community about healthy food consumption.
TT: What makes you unique compared to your competitors in the marketplace?
Joycelyn: I am a Biologist and a Chef. I use my expertise to approach production from every angle – Scientist, Chef, Foodie, consumer etc. Our products provide a unique combination of potency and enjoyability.
TT: What do you think your company is missing that the program can help with?
Joycelyn: Infrastructure and reinforcement! We need to have a clear picture on the major steps required to eventually become a household name. Marketing is a sore spot for us at the moment.
I’m expecting to learn to become retail ready and how to be a brand with longevity in general.
A spice offering 15 unique Indian-inspired pre-measured, single-use spice blends – helping you create the best Indian curries or your favorite modern dish with just a few fresh ingredients in less than an hour.
About the founders
Dana has had the amazing good fortune to have spent much of her career as an attorney working side by side with founders and innovators to help build and launch technologies and companies from the ground up, most recently as part of the team that completed a successful IPO. At the same time she was building her career and helping to launch start-ups, she was also launching her three amazing children and contending with and beating cancer. Having to confront cancer while in the midst of raising children and building a career gave her a priceless lens on life that she brings to everything she does. An appreciation for family, health and a focus on not just success, but also trying to appreciate each day and to do good. Meaning working with impact driven companies and maintaining a balance between work, family and friends. That led her to amazing opportunities with impact driven start-ups that created technologies to bring solar power to homes, to make buildings smarter and use less energy, compostable packaging that was good for the earth, and creating a marketplace for sustainable fashion. Fast forward to 2020. At the start of the pandemic, the implications of which no one really appreciated at the time, Dana and co-founder, Bina Motiram over long hikes and many glasses of wine thought about next steps in their careers; how to build on their experience and hard work and how to create products and a company that incorporated what mattered to them – sustainability, health, inclusion and community. From that vision, their friendship and mutual respect, SugarRoti spice blends were born. They took advantage of being locked down in their home office and working together, in one year, created and launched SugarRoti. From developing and testing their products, sourcing the spices, designing and manufacturing a compostable package, identifying a like-minded co-packer and building and launching their eCommerce website. They rolled up their sleeves and created a CPG company that offers consumers products that break down barriers and assumptions, empower them to create easy, healthy meals using timeless and delicious Indian spices, have fun cooking and build community to share meals and ideas. A company that will grow and continue to have a positive social impact for its employees, partners and the community at large.
Born in Mozambique, Africa to Indian entrepreneur parents, Bina spent her early years living in India with her grandmother (an entrepreneur in her own right), before moving to the Bay Area in the late 70s. Her culture and the foods that went along with it were always central to her life, but entrepreneurship was simply in Bina’s DNA. Her entrepreneurial journey began in her teens, taking on babysitting and working for her parents’ businesses as their bookkeeper. She was empowered early on to carve out her own space, so she started “Bean Counters”, her bookkeeping services and then later, BNM Consulting, where she provided strategic finance and operations work. These experiences eventually led Bina to the corporate world where she was able to bring her knowledge and skills to both small and large multinational organizations in Life Sciences, eCommerce, SAAS and Ad-Tech. Her business acumen in finance/financial planning, ability to problem-solve, simplify operations, and develop and define strategy helped successfully bring two companies public. But her passion was food – cooking and sharing meals with her family and friends. The pressures of work and travel made it impossible to follow her passion – to plan, shop and cook healthy meals shared with friends and family and a good glass of wine. Like so many of us, she turned to packaged, pre-made meals filled with sugars and preservatives that took a toll on her health. She also noticed her sisters, amazing parents working hard outside the home and raising their kids, struggling with healthy meals for the family and so the original SugarRoti idea was born. Get back to basics of eating home cooked meals made with spices that her mother and grandmother used; make it easy for her sisters to cook with these delicious spices and have a healthy meal on the table fast. Bina’s original concept was a meal-delivery business, but again, with the demands of her finance career and the complexities of cooking and delivering prepared meals, she put her idea on hold. But the idea of healthy meals with spices in less than an hour didn’t go away. Fast forward to 2020. At the start of the pandemic, the implications of which no one really appreciated at the time, Bina and co-founder, Dana DuFrance over long hikes and many glasses of wine thought about next steps in their careers; how to build on their experience and hard work and how to create products and a company that incorporated what mattered to them – sustainability, health, inclusion and community. From that vision, their friendship and mutual respect, SugarRoti spice blends were born. They took advantage of being locked down in their home office and working together, in one year, created and launched SugarRoti. Developing and testing their products, sourcing the spices, designing and manufacturing a compostable package, identifying a like-minded co-packer and building and launching their eCommerce website. They rolled up their sleeves and created a CPG company that offers consumers products that empower them to create easy, healthy meals using timeless and delicious Indian spices, have fun cooking and build community to share meals and ideas. A company that will grow and continue to have a positive social positive impact for its employees, partners and the community at large.
TT: What was the inspiration behind your brand?
Bina & Dana: Innovation, sustainability, beautiful clean products, creating an impact driven company built around our blends that help cooks create with these timeless spices, to have fun in the kitchen, create healthy, delicious meals and to break down barriers — do away with the intimidation and hassle of cooking with these delicious spices. And push beyond culinary barriers — do away with perceptions that these spices are limited to only traditional Indian spices, to inspire and empower our customers to not only think but also “cook outside the box!”
Bina & Dana: We need to develop expertise around retail opportunities — how to ensure our products are shelf-ready; how to plan for retail growth as relates to forecasting with our suppliers; how to work with brokers, how to display our products; where to push to locate our products in a retail store, as just a few areas we need to understand.
XCJ is a modern Chinese food brand bringing authentic Chinese street food experiences to consumers homes.
About the founders
Caleb is a native of Shanghai and his favorite food growing up was a pan-fried soup dumpling called “Sheng Jian Bao”. After moving to the states, he found that this street food did not exist and in 2018 decided to embark on a journey with Jen to start Xiao Chi Jie. XCJ in Chinese literally translates to Street Food Avenue and the company specializes in providing authentic and unique asian street food experiences straight to customers homes. Prior to XCJ, Caleb worked as an investor at a variety of financial institutions (Citibank, Francisco Partners, Glenhill Capital) and has also founded a private investing firm called Dovetail Capital.
Jen is one of the co-founders of XCJ. She has learned over time to embrace the hybrid nature and duality of being Chinese American and appreciate the rich history of her Chinese heritage. This is an opportunity for us and our communities to create new, multidimensional representations of what it means to be our own brand of Asian American and create a cuisine that deserves a place in the American food ecosystem. Alongside and prior to starting XCJ, Jen is the Head of Strategic Initiatives at Evidation for their consumer product, previously lead the enterprise Business Development team at Evidation, and has also lead Business Development for Rock Health.
TT: What was the inspiration behind your brand?
Caleb: I was raised in Shanghai until moving to the states for middle school. SJB could be found in almost every street stall. They came in “longs” or servings of four – I distinctly remember having a 5 minute debate with my grandfather before he went to pick up SJBs for meal time, always urging him to buy more “long” (servings of four) of bao than our family really needed for dinner or lunch. Since moving to the states, it was incredibly hard to find a restaurant that served the dish in an authentic way and one long running dream has always been to start a soup dumpling restaurant in the states that does SJBs “right”.
TT: What are you looking to get out of the Target Forward Founders program? How will the program help your business reach your goals?
Caleb & Jen: We would love to leave the founders program having met a bunch of great people and feel like we are educationally-prepared for launching retail! In particular, we are really interested to understand how a major retailer evaluates brands and learn what they value in a product.
We were born as both a restaurant and direct to consumer company and therefore lack the knowledge of retail. We are very eager to dive in and learn about the regulatory landscape, what retailers need to be successful, and how to create lasting partnerships!
To learn more about each brand or to shop their products, click on their logos below!