During this time (and always!) it is so important to support local and small businesses in our communities. Plus it’s great for the economy too! We are constantly inspired by the ambition and resilience of small business founders. We feel that the risks that they take lead to innovation and help in moving the world forward.
Inspired by these entrepreneurs and their stories, we recently chatted with Oz Erbas Soydaner and Katerina Papatryfon – owners of Sprout, about being entrepreneurs, running a small business while also running a family, and how they have adapted to the changes that Covid-19 had brought to their business.
What is your business about and why did you start it?
Sprout makes wholesome, ready-to-(h)eat kids meals based on nutrition science. Each of our whole-food, plant-based meals are scientifically designed for children – to optimize their growth and minimize the risk of preventable diseases in the future. Our mission is to raise the nutritional standards for kids by revolutionizing food through science.
Why should parents choose Sprout? Because every bite counts and we want to contribute towards nurturing a generation of children that are free of preventable diseases and are the healthiest they can be.
Oz is a biochemist by education, and she completed her Master’s degree in immunology, but she is also a serious hobby chef. She was always attuned to health and nutrition, but it wasn’t until she had her first daughter in 2015 when she realized that there was something fundamentally wrong about the food that she perceived as healthy.
As a new mom, she felt this overwhelming urge to understand nutrition better to feed her daughter appropriately, and in line with what science says to be healthful. But the internet is full of opposing views–one expert recommends ‘x’, another one condemns ‘x’; finding a trusted source isn’t easy. Given her background in biochemistry, she decided to delve into primary research literature, and the more she read the more she understood the complexity of the subject of nutrition.
However, the bulk of the research showed clear commonalities across the healthiest and longest-living people in the world (also called people of the Blue Zones) – people who are free of chronic diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease, etc. and have diets centered around whole foods. These individuals eat a diet that consisted of whole grains, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices – with very limited use of animal products or processed foods.
In contrast, supermarket shelves are stacked with the opposite of what we should be eating. We predominantly see animal-based, highly processed, highly addictive, and long shelf-life foods–including the foods in the kids’ section. The majority of the chefs in restaurants aren’t trained in
nutrition–yet that’s where we order our food from. Oz started to realise that the food industry only cares about taste, which often comes at the expense of our health. People aren’t offered what is healthful for them, they are offered highly palatable foods with a long shelf life and high margins, prepared by chefs who don’t know the ABC of nutrition. In the Spring of 2019, Oz tried her first menu on six children across different ages and cultural backgrounds. Based on the overwhelmingly positive response received in this pilot test, she decided that it was time to help more parents out there.
Oz reached out to Katerina to help in the e-commerce & marketing set up of the business. As Katerina spent more time with Oz, learning about nutrition science, her passion for children’s nutrition grew and the idea of helping other parents navigate through this journey was a no-brainer.
Encouraged by the successful pilot and armed with extensive knowledge in nutrition science, Sprout was born–a company that is mission-driven to offer wholesome, ready-to-(h)eat meals to kids that are 100% based on nutrition science.
What do you love about your business?
With both of us coming from corporate backgrounds, (Oz from Management Consulting and Katerina from Digital & Tech), we are used to the gruelling hours and work needed to make a concept come to life. But Sprout has offered us a way to do something that truly matters–not only to ourselves but to our children and the future generation. We’re building Sprout because we believe that parents and children should have access to genuinely healthy and balanced meals–because every bite counts.
Every parent wants to see their child grow and thrive. And all parents want to feed their child nutritious food, but this can be a daunting task for many of us. This is because we are faced with a nutrient-deficient and broken food system, as well as an overload of information. Add this to the time spent shopping, preparing, and cooking for a family, it just isn’t always an easy task. There are so many questions and it’s hard to find answers and guidance. But at Sprout, we understand that not everyone has a nutrition-science degree and you shouldn’t have to bend over backwards to feed their child nutritionally sound food. We have all of that covered while offering guiltless convenience!
How do you manage your time between running a business and a family?
Katerina: I went on an interview once, while I was pregnant with my second child, and the interviewer asked me, “How will you manage with two children and working full time?” and I said, “the same way millions of women have managed for thousands of years…you just figure it out because you have to!”
I think women are born with this superpower that goes into effect when it’s needed. You can magically manage 100 things simultaneously and also make yourself the last priority. (The former is a good thing, but the latter is not so good).
I think we’re lucky that help is affordable in the UAE and it’s critical when you are a working parent. I consider myself lucky that I get to come home to my children and I can spend quality time with them. I come home and have dinner with my family, bathe my kids, read them stories and put them to bed without having to worry about cleaning the house or doing laundry.
Those precious few hours I have with them I tend to turn off my phone and just be with my children. I try hard to be “present” when I’m home with the kids, and I’m still trying to be kinder to myself about dropping the mom guilt!
How has Covid-19 affected your business and how have you adapted?
We were ready to launch the Sprout website in February 2020 and then Covid-19 hit. We had to quickly adapt our marketing strategies and go entirely digital! Increasing our digital marketing efforts to communicate and meet changing customer needs. Our initial strategies, before Covid-19, was quite different as it focused on a lot of offline engagements. This shift was challenging and abrupt at first, but we were able to adapt and find new ways to gain and support our customers online.
We also understood many families had reservations about having food deliveries to their homes, so Oz & Katerina took on the role of delivery for the first couple of months. It was tough to manage all the nuisances of launching a business plus delivering meals all over Dubai, but it gave us some valuable face-to-face time with many of our customers. We learned a lot from our customers first-hand and we were able to adapt as needed.
We want to say thank you to all of those who have placed orders during this time. Your continuous support is invaluable. For us, nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of our families and children and we look forward to being a part of your family mealtime.
Any piece of advice to other small businesses owners or anyone wanting to start their own business?
I think if you wholeheartedly believe in an idea and it 100% matters to you, then you’ll find you’re willing to fight for it much more. If you have that drive behind your idea, then go for it.
Also, find a partner–preferably someone who has different strengths than yourself.
The value of different viewpoints and perspectives in every stage of business planning is crucial. It also keeps you outside of your comfort zone, which in return pushes you to build a better business that is more rounded, inclusive and wholesome.
Be sure to follow Sprout on Instagram!
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