With help from a New Haven start-up backer, a new New Haven company is hoping that people will start broadening their social circles while simultaneously enjoying a homecooked meal prepared by local chefs.
The new company is called Homecooked. It is one of six local startups that just received $1,000 after making successful pitches to Collab, a state-funded entrepreneur training and support program founded by New Haven millennials Caroline Smith and Margaret Lee.
The six winners presented their new projects at a “Collab Pitch Day” Wednesday evening at the Grove. The event was a celebration at the end of a six-week program geared to getting their projects off the ground, in front of a community audience that included potential new funders.
The other five are Extra Yard, a college preparation support for high school students; Love Fed New Haven, a startup that aids people in growing their own food; Nasty Women of Connecticut, a feminist platform inspired by the national movement of inclusion and elevation of women’s voices; Pascale’s Body Care, which creates organic body care products designed for women of color; and Peels and Wheels Composting, which composts household food wastes for residents and local groups.
Collab selected this year’s ventures from a pool of 120 applications for admittance into the incubator program. which includes workshops, a community mentor, and legal resources along with the $1000 in funding.
Homecooked created online “tables” hosted by local chefs and aspiring chefs in their homes. The chefs cook the meals; app users find people with similar tastes and interests to attend the meals in the cooks’ homes. While food is a major focus of the app, the bigger goal involves building community.
Hojung Kim, Kevin Zhen and Eric Duong introduced Homecooked’s algorithm at Wednesday night’s event. They said they’re looking to satisfy eaters as well as forge bonds in a fractured civic society.
“There is something so simple but incredibly powerful about sitting down and breaking bread,” said Zhen.
Other startups have tried and failed to provide a similar homemade meal service uniting community members. Homecooked sees its advantage in its attention to not only the food but also the interests of the chefs and diners. Through its app, users can search for food events based on price, location, date and time and cuisine type before viewing shared interests listed on the individual profiles of the customers.
According to Zhen, their attention to the social aspect in dining is what sets them apart from these other ventures.
“It’s not about the food. It’s about the people. This explains why our competitors have struggles so much to fill their tables. They show pictures of food because they only sell food. We show people because we’re offering an opportunity to connect,” said Zhen.
Over the past two years, Homecooked has coordinated 23 events in Chicago and New Haven and has received more than $10,000 in revenue.
None of the group’s entrepreneurs were born in New Haven. Two –– Duong and Zhen –– currently attend Yale University. Kim recently moved to the Elm City upon graduating from the University of Chicago. Zhen and Kim had been high school roommates at Phillips Exetor, and Kim hatched the idea for the venture upon mulling over the struggles of young people to connect with one another in the digital world.
Nasty Women Connecticut finds its roots in a widespread movement inspired by the 2016 presidential election, in which Donald Trump referred to Hillary Clinton as a “nasty woman.” Led by Luciana McClure, Abbie Kundishora, Louisa de Cossy and Atallah Sheppard, the group will use their funding to create a more inclusive form of feminism through arts exhibitions, mentorship programs and other outreach projects.
“If you want to do any type of change, you have to start in the community. You can’t start anywhere else” said McClure.
Kundishora began the venture with an art exhibit in March of 2017 based on the global art movement. From there, she met her partners, and the team decided to progress from a project focused on donations to groups like Planned Parenthood to a self-sustaining nonprofit organization. (Click here to read about a recent Westville event.)
They hope to utilize Collab’s funding to further develop their foundation through marketing tools and web projects.
“The idea behind Nast Women Connecticut is that we all have the power to do something to create change,” said McClure.