A Harvard startup’s quest to reinvent processed and unhealthy delivery food

Claire Spackman, CEO of Harvard Innovation Lab startup prettychill, at Flour Bakery Cafe in Harvard Square on March 29, 2019, for an interview with BU News Service. (Photo by Jennifer Suryadjaja/BU News Service)

By Jennifer Suryadjaja
BU News Service

CAMBRIDGE — A busy schedule is often the easy excuse to eating out. The Harvard-based startup Prettychill wants their customers to stop finding excuses.

Donning a black and white long-sleeved striped shirt, Claire Spackman, founder and CEO of Prettychill, sat upright with her pastel pink bubble jacket hung on the back of the grey chair. The rainy weather did not dampen her spirits as she talked about her startup with BU News Service at a bakery in Harvard Square.

Spackman said she created her startup in summer 2018 to help others eat a healthy meal by delivering fresh, ready-to-eat meals. Though still at the ideation phase, Spackman said Prettychill will launch at the start of summer 2019.

Growing up as a professional athlete in Hong Kong, Spackman developed a habit of healthy and conscious eating since she was a young child. She also wanted to start a company but did not know what. Until now.

As a senior at Harvard University studying psychology, Spackman said she juggles her startup, schoolwork and personal life. At times, Spackman said, professionals wouldn’t treat her seriously in her quest for partnerships and collaborations, as she is still a student.

“Every morning and every evening,” Spackman said, “I make sure I go through emails religiously.”

To focus and understand the business world better, she enrolled in a class titled “Social Entrepreneurship” at the Harvard Innovation Lab, or Harvard iLab, an innovation and entrepreneurship program that houses student-run startups at Harvard in a coworking space in Allston. Then came Prettychill, the brainchild of Spackman’s creativity brought to life.

Prettychill operates out of the the iLab, a brightly lit space for current students at Harvard. Spackman’s team doesn’t occupy set tables, and she said she enjoys having the mobility and flexibility of moving around the open space.

Another consideration that pops up with launching a startup are financial challenges. Although Prettychill has received interest from other investors, the company is bootstrapping, which means that the company’s employees are using their own money to finance and operate Prettychill. Spackman said the company does not want to “raise funding until we absolutely have to.”

The team works with professional chefs and are aiming to testing their products at the America’s Test Kitchen, a company that experiments with ingredients and tests cookwares. The other people who make up Prettychill are food scientists, nutritionists and interns. They work hand-in-hand to create healthy dishes that focuses on the diversity of ethnic cuisines. At least three of their meals will be cauliflower rice-based.

Spackman said supply chain is the hardest part. Prettychill is trying to source all of its ingredients locally. However, it is not an easy task as different ingredients are sourced from different distributors or farmers.

The unique aspects of Prettychill meals are that each meal contains less than 10 ingredients and provides approximately 300 calories. Spackman said that the amount of calories is similar to that of typical protein bars, so customers can feel as if they are eating a full meal instead of merely snacking.

“There’s a huge consumer shift going on where people are moving away from having three giant meals a day to having six smaller meals and snacking, which I do all the time,” said Spackman.

Once ordering the food online, the food will come with ice packs to keep it fresh and customers can microwave their meal for two minutes.

The “chill” in Prettychill nods to the frozen food products, Spackman said. As for “pretty,” Spackman said having their target demographic as women fits into the scene perfectly. She said she was looking up company names that were “flowery” and “overly dramatic” before the words “pretty” and “chill” rang in her mind.

“I was just talking to my mum and she was like, why don’t we just do something super simple? Look at Facebook, it’s just the words face and book,” said Spackman. “And I went yeah let’s do a pretty chill thing.”

Although currently targeting the niche audience of women only, Prettychill also hopes to expand their target a bigger population, such as the general college students, mums, office workers and the health-conscious.

“Our goal is to introduce a new lifestyle of eating, so not just another food delivery company but we want to create a white space market,” said Spackman.

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