3 Ideas in the Works by NextCorps Embark Startup Founders
If you have an idea for a web or mobile application, you no longer need a small team of programmers to build it. The no-code movement is creating more opportunities than ever for founders to launch software companies without learning a line of code.
NextCorps Embark was designed to tap into the no-code movement and create viable software businesses right here in the Finger Lakes Region. It’s a 12-month program with two phases: Work with non-technical entrepreneurs to identify an idea for a B2B software solution, then teach them no-code tools to build it themselves and get on a path to recurring revenue.
Since Embark began in September 2021, participants have focused on customer discovery, conducting interviews to pinpoint real-world business problems and define their ideas. They’ve received weekly instruction, hands-on support from a network of local partners, and the help of student interns from the University of Rochester and RIT to validate the market potential and develop a business plan.
Now it’s build time. Embark founders — down-selected at the beginning of the year from a cohort of 40 to 10 finalists — are beginning to build out their MVPs (minimal viable products) after going through an intensive Bubble.io boot camp, learning one of today’s most popular no-code platforms for creating digital products.
We caught up with three founders to share an inside look at some of the ideas in development.
Prompt: Helping Marketers Define and Visualize Every Challenge and Solution
Marketers on both sides of the fence — at agencies and in-house — agree that project briefs are important. They also agree that the traditional brief format is fundamentally flawed.
“I’ve been in communications for 35 years and all the while I’ve seen a love/hate relationship with project briefs,” said Mike Durand, Founder of the creative studio Duet and veteran of big brands and creative agencies like Microsoft and Publicis. “Everyone knows you have to have a good brief, but most people say the standard two-page document falls short of what they need.”
The biggest pain points? Traditional briefing docs are rigid, subjective, and neglected.
“Briefs are typically developed from a standard set of discovery questions that rarely change,” Mike explains. “They’re based on the point of view of the author. And they’re either never seen by the full team, or they quickly become outdated because there’s a change of scope or disagreement on priorities.”
As an Embark founder, Mike is working on a software solution that will address the hunger for a better brief, one that’s dynamic, co-owned, and visual. Described as “Turbo Tax plus Pinterest” for marketers, Prompt is a project planning tool that will empower users to create interactive, living briefing documents for creative campaigns and other strategic initiatives.
“Prompt combines data with visuals to get you to that ah-ha moment faster,” said Mike.
As he enters the build phase, Mike is hyper-focused on user experience.
“One of the partners [in the Embark network] said that if you’re trying to build something better than the brief that people have been using for decades, it has to be an experience that’s 10 times better,” said Mike. “It has to be enjoyable, so people actually want to use this tool. Getting advice from the specialists within the partner community, like the experts at ITX and Rivet CX, has been really valuable.”
AromaTrust: Addressing Misinformation in Aromatherapy
Essential oils can offer a number of health benefits, from pain relief to better sleep. But using them without consulting a qualified aromatherapist or understanding the potential consequences can be dangerous.
Emily Carpenter is a certified aromatherapist and lifestyle blogger with a passion for educating people on proper and effective use of essential oils. She shares her knowledge on healthy living and alternative medicine during a monthly segment on Good Day Rochester. When Emily joined Embark, she thought professional aromatherapists could benefit from a tool to track their essential oil use.
“When I started interviewing aromatherapists to figure out their challenges, I found out that an app already exists for tracking essential oils and their chemical constituents,” said Emily. “So I kept asking questions. What I quickly discovered is that the number one challenge in the field of aromatherapy is misinformation about essential oils.”
“Qualified aromatherapists have 200+ hours of training in the chemical components and therapeutic uses of essential oils. At the same time, there are people who sell essential oils out of their living room who don’t have the education about how they can affect anatomy and physiology. So I wondered, how can we bridge the gap between these two communities and move forward together?”
Emily is now creating a platform that will put credible aromatherapy resources in your pocket. Her vision is to provide a directory of certified aromatherapists for hire. There will also be an educational component where professional aromatherapists can supply articles and create courses for essential oil users.
While the platform is in development, Emily has been working to create brand awareness and build community. She recently hosted a three-day virtual summit with talks and resource packages from more than 30 aromatherapists from eight different countries across the globe. “The Aroma Summit“ attracted over 2,700 participants and got people talking and excited about AromaTrust.
“The traction I’m seeing, the conversations around The Aroma Summit — this is exactly the effect that I wanted to have,” said Emily. “People are hungry for solid information and connection, and I’m excited about the community we’re building. I would not have been able to do this without the structure and support from Embark.”
Get curated aromatherapy resources delivered to your inbox and get notified when AromaTrust and the next Aroma Summit go live at AromaTrust.com.
Yonderplate: Restaurants’ Plug-and-Play Solution for Plant-Based and Gluten-Free Menu Items
Plant-based and gluten-free foods are on the rise, with the gluten-free market alone projected to see a 9.5% compound annual growth rate from 2021 to 2027. Despite the staggering prevalence of medically mandated eating limitations and clear demand for more V’s and GF’s on menus, restaurants and foodservice establishments are largely failing to provide a variety of plant-based and gluten-free items.
“It’s a frustrating process for diners to go on Yelp or HappyCow, or to even call a restaurant and ask about their menu offerings, only to show up and not have the gluten-free, vegan, or vegetarian option they wanted,” said Heather Saffer, entrepreneur, author, and owner and founder of ABC’s Shark Tank-winning Dollop Gourmet, a better-for-you vegan frosting brand.
Heather entered Embark with the concept of helping restaurant owners better mark their menus to avoid these frustrating dining experiences. But her idea morphed when she started an entrepreneur peer group with several other Embark founders, including Wayne Sellers, who has executive level experience at iconic global brands such as Five Guys and Tim Hortons.
“Pre-pandemic, I was poking around with the idea of helping restaurants activate gluten-free and vegan menu items,” said Wayne. “When the pandemic hit, restaurants were in survival mode. With the labor shortages they faced, I knew someone needed to actually manufacture and supply the menu options for them.”
Heather and Wayne partnered up to create Yonderplate, an innovative food company providing foodservice operators with plant-based and gluten-free menu items. Yonderplate’s R&D experts prioritize ease of operations for kitchen teams, resulting in products which are low-labor, low-training, turnkey solutions.
Since teaming up through Embark, Heather and Wayne have been accepted into Launch NY’s funding mentorship program, enlisted Cornell Food Venture Center’s food science resources, and been invited to present at Invest New York’s “Future of Food” at the Culinary Institute of America. They’ve developed wholesale distribution channels to restaurants and foodservice operators across the Great Lakes and established a manufacturing presence in the Finger Lakes Region. Letters of intent have been secured from a growing number of restaurants, from high-end dining establishments to pubs and grills. And with next school year around the corner, Yonderplate is involved in menu planning discussions at university campuses across the region.
As they prepare to scale production, Heather and Wayne are also building community-based marketing initiatives, partnering with animal welfare and health & wellness organizations in Rochester and Buffalo. Yonderplate pledges a portion of its profits to mission-aligned partners like Verona Street Animal Society and Pluta Cancer Center.
“I’m a huge animal advocate,” said Heather, who adopted her dog from Verona Street and feels a deep connection to the organization. “Animal welfare is a big cause for me, and a motivating factor to help people eat more plants and less meat.”
The Yonderplate team is open to meeting chefs, food innovators, and mission-aligned partners. Visit yonderplate.com for more information on how to get involved.