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Natural Products Expo
Hakuna Banana Pitch-Slam winners

Give your brand a boost: What it’s like to win a Natural Products Expo Pitch-Slam

The dynamic duo of banana-based ice cream brand Hakuna Banana won the 2019 Expo West Pitch-Slam and are now bearing the fruit of their success. Hear what the founders have to say about their win and the boost it has given their brand.

The 2019 Natural Products Expo East Pitch-Slam application is now open through August 2. It’s time to craft your story to impress the selection committee—all in hopes of pitching as an Expo East Pitch-Slam semi-finalist in Baltimore for the chance to win a grand prize worth more than $40K in New Hope Network services (including a free booth at Expo East 2020).

Here, Mollie Cha and Hannah Hong, co-founders of Hakuna Banana, share their experience of winning the 2019 Expo West Pitch-Slam and the impact it has had on their brand's growth.

Why do you think you won Pitch-Slam?

Mollie Cha and Hannah Hong: While we presented our brand’s value proposition very clearly, we really think we won because we stayed true to ourselves as founders. Our brand is light and fun, so we wanted to live that in our application and on stage, to present our authenticity to the judges and the audience. Our company culture is based on friendship, and that came through in our presentation. Its important to express who you are.

How was your experience at Expo West after winning Pitch-Slam?

EW19_1273-XL.jpgMC and HH: This was our second year exhibiting and we felt a huge change from the first year. After the Pitch-Slam this year, our booth was mobbed! We had so many people visit our booth—regular passersby, retailers, investors and distributors all came to us and wanted to talk to us. We didn’t even need to explain who we were or what we do, because everyone already had an idea.

Now that a few weeks have passed since Pitch-Slam, what opportunities have arisen?

MC and HH: Since Expo West, things have been a blur. Winning Pitch-Slam produced a lot of opportunities, and we have been so busy trying to handle them all. On the retailer end, Pitch-Slam has helped us pursue channels we aren’t currently in. On the investor end, many have started to reach out to us and have asked us about our plans going forward. Overall, we have received more visibility than we initially expected; it has produced leads that we were looking to create over the next year, but winning has accelerated the process with a plethora of introductory meetings.

What was it like to work with your mentor and how did he influence your pitch?

MC and HH: Justin Perkins was amazing to work with. He was incredibly generous with his time and gave very good, specific feedback. What we ended up pitching with was tailored by our conversations with him. With business backgrounds, we had our original pitch hit all the business points. Hearing it for the first time and knowing how pitch-slams go, Justin helped us shape our pitch into more of a narrative. As a result, we were able to tell our story about who we are and what the company is, which allowed us to better connect with the judges and the audience.

Which part of the prize package are you most excited for?

MC and HH: We are looking forward to the free booth at Expo West 2020 and presenting at the NCN Fall Investor Meeting! We also just registered for Supply Side West, which is very exciting. We are getting bigger, need more scale and need to secure our supply chain to make sure we have the right strategy and partners in place to help us grow. It’s also a great opportunity to learn about new ingredients and stay ahead of the innovation curve.

Were you able to develop any valuable relationships as a result of Pitch-Slam?

MC and HH: Absolutely, and it’s now up to us to nurture the relationships we have made. One huge relationship is connecting with the people at New Hope and understanding what your team does as such huge players in the industry, and how we can continue to develop that relationship. It has also been great to collaborate and commiserate with other founders and brands in the industry, because no one understands a founder’s story like another founder. After all, it is all about expanding and building your network. Through Pitch-Slam and Expo West, we have been able to connect and network in this greater community.

NaturalProductsExpoEast_RGB.jpgWant to apply to pitch at Expo East 2019 for your chance to win a free booth at Expo East 2020, along with more than $40K in services from New Hope Network? Click here—applications close August 2!

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