Energy bar start-up to expand beyond Yale2 Comments
A group of innovative Yale students has converted the morning cup of coffee into an energy bar called Verb.
Last year, Matt Czarnecki ’18 began Yale Launch, an entrepreneurial club that aims to create simple business solutions to complex everyday problems. According to Launch Vice President Lindsey Combs ’19, last fall, the club’s members worked on developing business ideas, learning how to pitch their ideas and creating business plans.
At the end of the semester, Combs said, the group pitched its ideas to a panel of judges drawn from the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design and the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute. The judges identified Verb — started by Czarnecki, Bennett Byerley ’19 and André Monteiro ’18 — among their top two selections from the competition.
Byerley, who described himself as a “caffeine junky,” said that the team came up with the idea for the caffeinated energy bar last November while looking to bring more energy into their days. He added that after winning the competition through Yale Launch, the three began working on their project last spring.
According to Czarnecki, for the first several months, the base ingredients for the bar were just almond butter, agave nectar and unsweetened cocoa powder. Byerley and Czarnecki said that throughout the process, simplicity is something Verb’s creators have striven for, adding that they want consumers to be able to read and pronounce every ingredient.
“The innovation process is never-ending,” Byerley said. “Every time we think we’ve come up with something that is the one, we end up going into the kitchen and trying different recipes.”
In the beginning of the design process, Czarnecki said, the trio used Yale’s student kitchens, as well as rented bakeries on the weekends. Over time, however, through partnering with local bakeries like Four Flours and consulting with food scientists, the product evolved tremendously, he added.
Since Verb’s inception, Bennett and Czarnecki have made changes in marketing strategy, branding, and ingredients, they said. Byerley said he estimates that Verb has had over 100 recipes, with puffed brown rice, oats, vanilla extract and caffeine extract added to the base recipe. Despite the hundreds of trials and thousands of hours in the kitchen, Byerley said he finds this constant process of trial and error rewarding.
“We worked all spring and had a launch event during exam period last year when we gave away 300 bars in Bass Cafe in under an hour,” Byerley said. “People really liked them, and we were at the point where we might want to spend a lot of time trying to turn this into something. We worked over the summer and throughout the fall.”
Byerley said this semester’s biggest challenge has been supplying enough bars to meet the demand among the student body. Because the team would like to expand to meet the increasing consumer demand, it can no longer afford to make the bars in the kitchen, Byerley said.
He added that the Verb team is currently working on hiring a co-packer — a company that manufactures and packages food for a client company. However, the team is not willing to sacrifice the quality of their product or ingredients for mass-scale, Czarnecki said. Byerley added that they are hoping to have a manufacturing process in place to facilitate a full-scale launch in 2017.
A current obstacle for the team is marketing and branding, particularly with understanding consumers and communicating with them, according to Czarnecki. In light of this, the team has expanded to include Isaac Morrier ’17.
Morrier said he was added to the team to work on the branding process. He said he is working on communicating with the bar’s customer base by seeing how the product speaks to consumers, connecting their visions with that of the team’s, and understanding their motivations for consuming Verb.
“You have your own ingrained vision for how your product will be used, and it’s interesting to see how others will use it,” Czarnecki said. “We didn’t envision how multidimensional people’s uses would be — athletic, going out, eating it for taste, for breakfast. This has become a part of [people’s] routine; they order 12 to 25 bars at a time.”
According to Morrier, a current challenge associated with marketing Verb is to determine the best way to make it stand out from competitors.
“Look at any shelf in a supermarket, the bars in front of the registers at G-Heav,” Morrier said. “There’s 500 of them and they all have a different reason to stick out, so differentiation is going to be tough, visually making it something that is both loud enough that someone will be drawn in and pick it up but comfortable enough that someone will be able to assimilate it into their everyday routines.”
Byerley and Czarnecki said the team has sold 1,500 Verb bars in the past three and a half weeks, and have now begun accepting orders online.
Each Verb energy bar has 160 calories and 100 mg of caffeine.