Last year, SKU launched the Elevate Program (formerly M\O) in partnership with Naturally Austin. The initiative was created to help level the playing field for BIPOC (Black, Indigeneous, and People of Color) founders in the consumer-products industry, providing education, mentoring and other resources.
Ten brands were selected for the 2021 8-week program: Algo Dulce, Babka ATX, Funky Mello, Hangio, Homescape Pets, Jeany’s Ginger Elixirs, Luv Fats Ice Cream, Naturally Noah’s, UJAMAA Lighting and WAJU. And SKU Elevate far exceeded expectations. The founders of the 10 brands were passionate and dedicated, each bringing something innovative to their categories. The Elevate mentors, who came from such companies as General Mills, Pepsico and Amplify Snack Brands, dedicated their time and expertise throughout the program. Building on the success of last year’s program, SKU Elevate ’22 kicked off this June.
We wanted to check in with some of the founders from SKU Elevate ’21 to see what they’ve been up to over the last year.
Mesocano Foods (formerly Algo Dulce), founded by Jesse Mondragon, warmed our hearts and our stomachs with its authentic vanilla flan created from a family recipe. The company’s rebrand last month to Mesocano Foods celebrates the Mondragon’s family roots. You now can find Mesocano flan at a variety of retailers around Austin, including, Wheatsville Co-op, Thom’s Market and Central Market. To support this growth, the team has expanded to include commercial, brand, business development and financial advisors.
Sariel Brummer’ launched Babka ATX out of her kitchen to create the pillowy, melt-in-your mouth breads she grew up with in Israel. Sales have soared over the past year, expanding well beyond farmers markets. You can now find the brand’s seven different babka, as well as two mini-Babka, at 15 Austin stores and coffee shops, including Central Market. The babkas are now available on Amazon. In its first foray into the hotel industry, you can now also find their products at the Austin Marriott Downtown. To support this growth, Babka ATX now has four bakers, with plans to add more.
Funky Mello, founded by Delisa and Zack Harper, have experienced dramatic growth over the past year. Their chewy, vegan marshmallow creams are now available in more than 50 nationwide, including, Whole Foods Market. You now Find Funky Mello at in Canada at Vegan Supply Canada, the country’s largest vegan store. Funky Mello also has received some prestigious accolades. Foxtrot – one of the nation’s hottest retailers – recently selected Funky Mello as one of six winners of its 2022 Up & Comers Awards. The brand was selected from more than 1K submissions. Funky Mello also received a golden ticket at KeHe’s 2022 TrendFinder event. KeHe is one of the largest natural, organic, specialty, and fresh distributors.
With Hangio – bendable, durable hangers, Ayo Aigbe was on a mission to protect clothes by eliminating bumps, creasing and slippage . the innovative hangers have been featured in such publications as Fast Company, Voyage Dallas, and Mashable. In partnership with plant-powered tights brand Cloeco, Hangio launched the Styled By Science Podcast, which highlights change makers in the fashion industry, focusing on sustainability, representation, and innovation. This podcast has attracted an international audience.
Homescape Pets, founded by Nana and Marcus Pfeiffer, creates all-natural supplements and chews. They have had an exciting past year, notably increasing their revenues by 40% as well as expanding their sku’s for chews and treats. They have been recognized by LuxLife Magazine and were awarded “Most Innovative Natural Pet Supplement” for their Mussel Mobility pet joint supplement, as well as having their Companion’s Best Day CBD oil featured in BuzzFeed for “Helpful Products for Senior Pets.” Excitingly, after three years of being sold exclusively through e-commerce, they are now considering expanding into some local pet retailers, as well as a soon to launch brand refresh of logo and packaging, done by local agency Wonderkind.
Jeany’s Caribbean Elixirs
Jeany’s Caribbean Elixirs was inspired by the delicious fresh juices and teas from founder Najean Bernard’s childhood. The brand has grown to five elixirs as well as personalized elixirs along with two egg rolls and two sauces. In June, Jeany’s was selected out of 520 applications as a Southeast Region finalist for the Whole Foods Market LEAP Accelerator. Over the past year, the company was awarded a $5k grant from the Austin Food and Wine Alliance and a $2K educational scholarship from the Les Dames d’Escoffier.
Luv Fats Ice Cream
Luv Fats Ice Cream, founded by Chi Ndika, creates delicious coconut milk and avocado-based ice cream. In May, Luv Fats opened a window shop in Austin, Luv Fats also can be found at Austin Farmers Markets and at such stores as Dia’s Market, Royal Blue Grocery and Counter Culture.
While growing up in a low-income home, UJAMAA Lighting founder Rob Jackson recalls his mom telling him the electricity bill would be the one expense that “gets us kicked out the house, He launched UJAMAA to provide the most cost-effective, dependable and longest-lasting lighting products on the market. Jackson has received a lot of publicity over the past year. Jackson was featured in such publications as Black Enterprise magazine and Voyage Austin. Lee Jeans showcased him during Black History Month, Ujamaa also He was featured as an Amazon Small Business Superhero and will participate in the Amazon Black Business Accelerator program.
WAJU created by Chris Oates, is a sparkling water derived from upcycled fruit. Oates was featured by Food Entrepreneur as an emerging beverage brand that’s disrupting the water section. He also was featured in the Pipcorn Black Founder Spotlight series. WAJU’s whimsical packaging won Dieline’s first place award in the Functional Beverage category. And WAJU is part of (Included), a collective of CPG companies led and owned by Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and other CEOs of color.