File this under things you never knew you wanted: a cup that doubles as candy. The investors on Shark Tank know the sentiment all too well. They were skeptical when Chelsea Briganti and Leigh Ann Tucker brought just that - an edible cup that goes down like fruit leather - onto the show. But minutes (and a few bites later), they were sold.
It sparked an all-out bidding war, with sharks Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran eventually teaming up to invest in Loliware, the company the duo founded shortly after graduating at Parsons School for Design. Briganti and Tucker came up with the idea after entering a Jell-O mold competition.
"Chelsea and I are very passionate about sustainability and reducing our ecological footprint, so we wanted to create a cup that'd produce zero waste," Tucker explained. They dreamed up a cup that used a plant-based gelatin called agar to retain its shape. It crushed every other entry in the competition, and the girls began fielding calls from retailers wanting to be part of further product development. When they took the idea to Kickstarter, the cups - which they'd dubbed Loliware - surpassed their $10,000 goal. Then Shark Tank came calling, and within 36 hours of the show airing, they'd brought in $130,000.
"We made the same amount in 36 hours that we'd made in the months leading up to the show," Tucker said.
Before long, the duo began receiving calls from all over, from mega brands like Disney (interested in serving the cups in its parks) to Mom and Pop operations, like a vendor at the Texas State Fair. Though you shouldn't let the latter fool you; the Texas State Fair posed one of Loliware's biggest hurdles to jump, early on.
"The vendor was launching a new beer garden at the fair, and he wanted to offer state fair-inspired foods using organic ingredients, like a cotton candy soda in our berry cups, or green apple soda in a cherry cup, kind of like a candy apple," Tucker said. He asked for 50,000 cups to replace the plastic ones he'd been using. And he wanted them to be double Loliware's original size.
At first, the solution seems simple: Make bigger cups, faster! But, given Tucker and Briganti got their start in a rental kitchen, making 10 cups at a time by hand, they had to scale up production, ASAP.
"The biggest challenge was figuring out how to double the size of the cup while maintaining its structure," she said.
That's where their backgrounds in product and industrial design came in handy. Later this year, they hope to start selling the larger cup everywhere, along with a shot glass-sized version.
As Willy Wonka famously said, "candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker," and in this case, you get the best of both worlds. Each drink doubles as a snack, though if you're not in the mood to eat yours after drinking what's in it (they're extra-chewy since they grow sturdy when filled with liquid), it's okay: The cups are completely biodegradable.
Plus, there's an added bonus that Briganti and Tucker probably didn't foresee: Mom will never scold you for chewing on the edge of this cup.
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