Five entrepreneurs pitched their businesses to a panel of experts at the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship’s Small Business Leadership Conference, held August 1-3, 2018, at the JW Marriott in Orlando. The Jim Moran Institute is part of the Florida State University College of Business. The panelists were Jeff Piersall, founder and CEO of SCB Marketing; Kristal Caron, owner and managing partner of CN Sports Group; and Michelle Griffith, vice president of BoardroomPR.
Learn about the runners-up here.
Navy Veteran Finds Passion in Low-Sugar Ketchup
Founder of True Made Foods Places First at Orlando Event
Abraham Kamarck has traveled around the world as a U.S. Navy helicopter pilot, an MBA student at the London Business School, a turn-around manager for a plastics factory in Bulgaria, an innovation consultant in Qatar, and a U.S. coffee importer working with farmers in Eastern Uganda. So how is it that he found himself on a stage in Orlando one morning in August speaking to an audience of entrepreneurs about the sugar contents of ketchup, barbecue sauce and Sriracha?
Kamarck was pitching his company, True Made Foods, to three judges as part of a competition during an annual small business leadership conference held by the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship, which is part of the Florida State University College of Business. His was voted the winner of five pitches, which earned him a cash prize and bragging rights.
“Ketchup has more sugar than ice cream, ounce for ounce,” he said in an interview later, explaining his pitch. “A tablespoon of ketchup, one serving, has four grams of sugar, whereas a chocolate chip cookie has three grams of sugar. You’re essentially putting a chocolate chip cookie on your hamburger.”
True Made Foods, founded in 2015, manufactures condiments with ingredients that are unusual for American-made products, which rely on corn syrup for sweeteners. Instead, Kamarck’s company adds natural sweetness with carrots and butternut squash.
The event came at a good time for Kamarck, who lives with his wife and four children in Washington, D.C. The company’s revenues increased from $350,000 in 2017 to more than $500,000 so far this year, and he’s been traveling the country pitching his products to grocery chains while seeking investors to fund future growth. He’s also approaching theme parks, stadiums, arenas, restaurants and hotels — anywhere that serves large quantities of condiments.
A Scalable Business
The turning point came in 2014, when Kamarck was laid off from the coffee import business after a year. He was 38, and he realized it was time for him to start something of his own. “I wanted to build a product I could look at and be proud of that would eventually make money while I sleep,” he said.
“I wanted to build a scalable business. To do that, you have to go all in.”
Knowing start-ups lose money during the development phase, he was hesitant about relying on his wife’s salary as a government public policy researcher while he launched a company. But an acquaintance told him about a recipe online that used vegetables in ketchup, and that struck a chord.
“I thought that was a brilliant idea,” Kamarck said. “I had always made pasta sauces and chili that way, naturally sweetening them using vegetables instead of sugar to bring out the flavor. This was a pain point we had at home. We have four kids, and we try to eat very healthy, but ketchup was the one battle I just could not win as a parent.”
Kamarck was accepted to the Food-X Accelerator in New York City, a program that helped him with seed funding and allowed him to test and iterate the business idea.
He found a co-packer to produce the ketchup. In 2015, he went to a specialty foods trade show, having never sold a bottle, and walked out with $10,000 in purchase orders. He eventually bought out a business partner, and today he has two employees: an operations officer in Ohio and a marketing manager in New York.
Kamarck continues to test-market the products and spread the word organically. The company recently sent out 700 free samples along with a survey. About 88 percent of respondents said they would switch to True Made ketchup.
His goal is to disrupt the condiments market and contribute to healthier eating. “You look around at the amount of obesity and the amount of illness out there that’s diet-based, and it’s scary,” he said. “The U.S. uses a lot of corn syrup because we produce a lot of corn, and it’s a by-product.
“Our vegetable purees are made from ‘ugly’ and underweight vegetables that would usually rot because the farmers can’t sell them. So instead, they puree them, and we use the purees in our sauces. So we are adding an extra revenue stream for the traditional farmers.”
Kamarck’s pitch in Orlando was one of numerous he’s made for contests, investments or sales opportunities. He offers this advice for other entrepreneurs:
“You need to know your business inside and out. Know what you’re going to say, having said it over and over, so you have the same talking points and it comes out naturally without thinking. You have to be able to get into a flow state. It’s kind of like when you’re playing basketball, you don’t want to be thinking about shooting, you just want to be able to shoot because you’ve done it so many times.
“Always try to have a 15- or 30-second spiel, and focus on speaking slowly because that gives you more time to be sure you’re getting all your points across.
“Also, remember it’s OK to be nervous. The best I’ve ever done is when I’ve been really nervous and I get into a zone when I get up on stage.”