Some students come to Booth knowing exactly what they want to get out of the experience. Meet two Evening MBA students and Chicago Business Fellows, Lin Barros, Founder of Crave Natural and Ze Li, her partner in the endeavor.
Tell us about Crave Natural
Lin: Crave Natural is a super food hot cereals brand inspired by traditional Chinese food. I started the company last year accidentally because I love black sesame soup, a traditional Chinese food which has many health benefits. The problem is in the US I can only find it in some Chinese grocery stores and the ones I’ve found are full of empty calories and have high sugar content. I wanted to develop a delicious and healthy recipe and bring it to the American market to serve both the Asian population here as well as American foodies. We’ve now developed four different products.
Was it always your plan to come to Booth and work on Crave Natural full-time?
Lin: I had worked in consulting with the Boston Consulting Group and started Crave Natural six months before coming to Booth. I tested recipes with friends and colleagues, who were very supportive. I started working with a food scientist on the side but was making very slow progress. When I applied to Booth I figured this program would help me strengthen my strategic mindset and allow me to take advantage of all the entrepreneurial classes and resources. After moving to Chicago for the program, I realized I needed to devote more time to this venture, so I’ve now made it my full-time job.
Why did you choose Booth?
Ze: I was really blown away by the informational session I attended, the culture of the school, and the fact that it’s an analytically driven program. I also thought the Chicago Business Fellows (CBF) program (designed for young professionals with 3 years or less work experience) was a great addition to the main program because we develop our own cohort and camaraderie. It’s through CBF that I met Lin and learned about Crave Natural.
Ze, you’re working full-time, pursuing your MBA, and working on this company. How do you juggle it all?
Ze: It can be challenging. But when you’re working on things that you want to do, things that you believe in, it energizes you. The entrepreneurial work I do on the side helps me reinforce the work I do in my full-time job.
How has the Booth network supported you both?
Lin: I met so many like-minded people and have benefited from the network so much. I met and partnered with Ze early on, as he has experience in the food and beverage space. I also met Ashray Reddy, an Evening MBA student and founder of Meaningfull Meals who is helping me build a social mission into my company (we plan to donate 10% of our profits to the hunger-related nonprofits Ashray works with). Booth has been an amazing platform and has provided me with so many resources, great partnerships and advice from fellow classmates and professors. I have met a lot of people who want to connect me with other resources or contacts; almost every day I speak with two or three new people. It has helped me adjust the direction of my business. The Polsky Center has office hours with business and legal mentors which I take advantage of. I’ve learned how others have brought their ideas to life. Everyone has helped me in one way or another to construct my brand story, set priorities, and expand my marketing and sales channels. The program is helping me develop a strategic perspective.
Ze: I don’t think this would be possible without the resources and support of Booth. Especially the confidence that has been instilled in us.
Check out Crave Natural at www.cravenaturalfood.com
Libby Smoler is a marketing specialist for the Evening and Weekend MBA Programs.