Business is just poppin’

Northeastern alumnus Reuben Taube, ’05, MBA’10, and his brother Ari have invented a new gluten-free snack that is well on the way to making a big national splash.

Mini Pops, made of air-popped sorghum grain, can be found on shelves in specialty foods stores and Whole Foods Markets throughout the country. And one of the keys to this success, say the two entrepreneurs, has been the support they’ve gotten from the Inter-Disciplinary Entrepreneurship Accelerator (IDEA) program at Northeastern University.

The program, which helps students and alumni create, develop and accelerate their businesses through coaching, mentoring and gap funding, provided the brothers with consulting advice and $10,000.

The duo purchased an automated packaging machine with the money from IDEA. As Reuben, who created the business plan for Mini Pops in an entrepreneurship course, put it, “Now we can speed up the operation, approach larger distributors and keep up with demand.”

Equally valuable was the free advice, said Ari, who received tips on how to drive more traffic to Mini Pops’ website from a search engine optimization expert.

“When you’re starting a business, there are always so many questions,” Ari said. “Student-entrepreneurs or faculty members who have connections in the industry are there to give you objective answers.”

Reuben praised Northeastern’s entrepreneurship program for teaching him how to run a business. “I learned how to market and sell products, how to make financial projections and understand scaling and fixed costs,” he said.

The brothers plan to meet with potential investors after the second annual IDEA Investment Forum on campus on April 14. The company, Ari estimates, could be worth as much as $1 million in the next year. Faculty advisors and IDEA student leaders have high hopes for the tasty treat, which contains fewer calories, less fat and more protein than popcorn, and comes in varieties including baby white cheddar, little lemon pepper and itsy bitsy chili cheese.

“I’ve spent many decades working with entrepreneurs and I can tell you that these two guys have what it takes,” said senior academic specialist Dan Gregory, a faculty advisor for the venture accelerator program. “I’ve watched them build the operation and make a presentation for gap funding and I have a high degree of confidence that they can emerge and be successful.”

Michael Hans, chief executive officer of the program, agreed. “They obviously have a great idea,” said Hans, a third-year business major with a dual concentration in entrepreneurship and marketing.

“Because they’re really good at taking advice and running with it, they’ve been able to build a support network of people with expertise and leverage that in a positive way.”