Driven by a passion for health and wellness, the team at Zenblen is working to make expertly combined fresh ingredients more accessible. Tom Xinyuan Zhang, Co-Founder & CEO, talks about their smoothie-focused hardtech startup and positive experience being mHUB members.
Ben Salazar, Associate Mechanical Engineer, Tom Zhang, Co-founder & CEO of Zenblen, and Daniel Bernacki, Lead Engineer, test their prototype at mHUB physical product innovation center
Where did your idea and value proposition start?
Fun fact about me, I've been drinking smoothies every day for over a decade. I was actually known as "the smoothie guy" at my last office job because I would bring a mini blender to the office EVERY MORNING. My colleague said they wish they also had my smoothie routine, so I convinced our office manager to let me start Smoothie Fridays, which was me grabbing ingredients from the local supermarket and blending smoothies for everyone on Friday mornings. That lasted for about a year, and it was through this that I discovered how beneficial it would be if more people had smoothies as part of their routine. It was also through this that I realized the pain points most people have around smoothie making: not having the right ingredients; not knowing the right recipes; the fear of cleaning blenders, etc. But they still wanted a smoothie routine - the hurdles were just preventing it. So here was this underserved need and we were off to find a solution to address this. At Zenblen, our mission is to make healthy eating more accessible in everyone's daily routine.
What led your company to mHUB? How have you taken advantage of the mHUB resources?
One of my former colleagues who had recently pivoted into entrepreneurship recommended mHUB to me. I had actually started attending mHUB events while still working my previous day job as a consultant. The community and resources were so valuable as I made the leap to being a full time startup Founder. We have probably taken advantage of every resource mHUB has to offer. From the mentors - many of whom have followed our journey for years and helped shape myself as an entrepreneur - to the classes, to the community, Zenblen was literally built within these 4 walls.
How have you grown since your launch? Are there any big milestones that you want to touch on from the beginning to where you are now?
Hardware product development is a lengthy endeavor so the first time we sold smoothies from our kiosk right here in the halls of mHUB was a major milestone. Since then, we have gone off and piloted our kiosk all throughout the city of Chicago!
We are also very team centric here at Zenblen so every time we onboard a new team member, whether full-time or an intern, it is always a big occasion!
What’s on the horizon?
Zenblen is in the midst of our seed round and will be featured in the upcoming Chicago Venture Summit Future-of-Food! We have already had the opportunity to bring on some amazing investors and look forward to welcoming new partners for this next phase of our journey. We are also hiring for a Lead Software role and would love to chat with aspiring tech leaders who want to join a rocket ship at the ground level!
Do you have a story that touches on a pivot you made that really helped shape the way the company runs now?
Funny story from the early days: I had organized a smoothie tasting where I made my set of recipes for a group of 30+ people. It turns out that while I made a mean smoothie, all my recipes more or less all tasted like peanut butter. From there on, I enlisted the help of a registered nutritionist dietitian whom we later brought on full time. I'm glad that experience taught me at the very beginning to rely on experts. You simply cannot scale yourself because everyone is limited to 24 hours, and you shouldn't because you probably are not good at everything. So I see my most important job is to hire amazing people and empower them to take our company to new heights!
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