Cornell University Johnson at Cornell University

Startup Snapshots

Jessica Rolph

When you hear "baby food," what springs to mind? A tiny jar of drab-colored, highly processed puree, the consistency of toothpaste?

"There has been virtually no true innovation in the baby-food category since the 1930s, when Gerber came up with their first jar of canned baby food," says Jessica Rolph, founding partner and COO of Brooklyn-based startup Nurture, Inc., maker of flash-frozen,
Jessica Rolph, MBA '04 (right), partner and COO, Nurture, Inc., maker of HappyBaby foods, with cofounder Shazi Visram
Jessica Rolph, MBA '04 (right), partner and COO, Nurture, Inc., maker of HappyBaby foods, with cofounder Shazi Visram
organic HappyBaby foods [] that, while convenient, are as nutritious as homemade. Rolph's association with HappyBaby began in fall 2004, when an acquaintance introduced her to Shazi Visram, who had the idea to create an alternative to jarred baby food. Rolph, a graduate of the Park Leadership Fellows Program who is passionate about the intersection of business and social responsibility, was then working for SPINS, a research arm of Whole Foods Market (Austin, Texas). She immediately understood Visram's vision, quit her job, and moved to New York in June 2005 to partner with Visram. Together, they launched HappyBaby in May 2006.

Rolph tapped Johnson School faculty and classmates for assistance. "Zach Shulman was particularly helpful, lending his legal and entrepreneurial advice to us," says Rolph. "And many classmates invested in the first round of financing and introduced us to additional investors and connections in the industry."

To be sure, there were rough spots. To demonstrate the HappyBaby concept to potential investors, Rolph, Visram and ten helpers squirted pureed vegetables into tiny cube trays that were then frozen. "It took us all day to make a few hundred trays of HappyBaby to send to all the Whole Foods buyers," says Rolph.

Though things are smoother, Rolph and Visram are still logging plenty of hours. Neither of them has children yet, adds Rolph: "For now, this business is our baby – and a very demanding one!"

For every package of HappyBaby food sold, the company works with Project Peanut Butter – a non-profit that provides food for starving children in Malawi – to feed one child for one day.