The Zell Founders Fund, a student-led venture fund in the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Michigan, announced today that it has made a $100,000investment in organic snack brand, SMPL. Today, SMPL also launches its new brand, introducing a line of organic superfood bites developed for the modern lifestyle consumer. The innovative snack brand utilizes a well-balanced blend of organic fruit, nuts and superfoods in a single-serve resealable package for convenient on-the-go consumption. The investment recognizes the progress SMPL has made since it was founded in 2016 and the potential it has for future growth. The funds are being used to expand distribution, as well as advance branding and marketing efforts.
Founded by Ellis Fried, University of Michigan BA ’17, SMPL is setting a new standard for grab-and-go nutrition. “I founded SMPL out of my personal dissatisfaction with the energy bars on the market—they were either filled with sugar, didn’t deliver on taste or I never wanted to finish the entire bar at once,” said Fried.
In his junior year, Fried set out to create a healthier and more convenient alternative to energy bars better suited for his everyday active lifestyle. After hundreds of trial recipes performed out of his own kitchen, Fried was soon selling these bite-sized protein snacks, originally named ‘proteinbits’, all over campus and in retailers across metro Detroit while also interning at J.P. Morgan.
With early traction, Fried saw his opportunity to address a void in the marketplace and took additional time to perfect his bites and refine his brand. “We’re already putting our investment to good use in partnering with industry-leading CPG design agency Interact Boulder to better position the brand for growth. This has paid off immensely as we’ve secured distribution with numerous top retailers in New York City,” said Fried.
Unlike many existing energy bar and snack brands, SMPL is not directly targeting the traditional sports nutrition consumer. Instead, SMPL targets modern wellness consumers who are seeking high quality ingredients that are able to last throughout their busy days. SMPL has a unique distribution strategy to reach these consumers by selling primarily online and into lifestyle retail stores including juice bars, fitness studios, specialty grocers and athleisure apparel stores. SMPL has launched online and is rolling out to notable retailers in New York City such as MatchaBar, Alo Yoga, The Juice Shop and over 30 more, with plans to quickly expand.
“Part of what impressed us about SMPL was Ellis’s different approach to the market, and how willing he was to help us understand his business model and listen to the advice we had for how to make it a true success,” said Max Balthazar, MBA ’18, who performed the due diligence on the deal with Ryan Tish, BBA ’18.
“When we evaluate potential investments, the most important things we look at are the market, the management team and the product,” said Tish. “The market for protein snacks like these is only growing, and we were greatly impressed with Ellis and his drive to make SMPL succeed. He has what it takes to grow SMPL into a well-known brand, and the Founders Fund is happy to play a role in making that happen.”
The Zell Founders Fund is a $10 million seed fund that seeks out extraordinary Michigan Ross students and recent alumni whose ventures need funding to move from idea to profitability. The fund is led by a group of students who represent the top talent from the Zell Lurie Institute’s other established student-led funds. It was made possible by a 2015 gift from business magnate Sam Zell.
This investment is only the latest support that SMPL has received from the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Michigan. During his tenure at the University of Michigan, Fried and SMPL won more than $17,000 in prizes at the 2017 Michigan Business Challenge, received several Zell Lurie Dare to Dream grants, participated in the Zell Entrepreneur Program and earned Fried the Ross School of Business BBA Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
“Ellis has shown great initiative and promise as an entrepreneur, and we’re proud to have supported him at every step of the journey. We’re committed to helping him on his mission to make healthy eating convenient, and we look forward to his future successes,” Stewart Thornhill, executive director of the Zell Lurie Institute, said.