Katlin at Simple Mills

Offering sweet options to the gluten-free baker

“I was such a risk-averse person before I started this business, but I can see the vision – I know it’s going to work.”

Katlin Smith

Company: Simple Mills, delicious grain-free baking mixes

MBA program: Booth

Did you arrive at school with a specific business idea? Yes!

How did the business come about? I founded Simple Mills before arriving at Booth. The company was borne out of the difficulty with finding high-quality, delicious gluten-free foods. Simple Mills began production and was sold through a select group of stores shortly before I began my MBA program, and is currently stocked in 90% of Whole Foods Markets in the south region. I credit my success, in part, to her ability to leverage her amazing network, including top grocery executives and other food entrepreneurs.

What has it been like to start a business while in school? I’ve found team members in school, as five fellow students have worked in Simple Mills in the time I’ve been at Booth. That said, I feel that my first priority right now is the business. I love what I do – I’m okay with school being in the back seat.

Are you going to finish? Yes!

On time? No – I’ll be staying for a third or fourth year. Booth has shown great flexibility for entrepreneurs – I’ve seen my scholarship carry forward with no issues.

What have you learned that you have already applied to the business? I’ve already taken many valuable lessons from my MBA. My negotiations class led me to adjust my own negotiating style with retailers; I gained valuable insights on my company’s structure from a professor in Hyde Park Angels (an Angel organization in the Midwest). MBA students can learn a great deal from their peers – a classmate from the part-time program has helped me structure my first significant investment.

What does the future hold? I’ll be participating in an MBA case competition centering around food and food services, as well as joining a food incubator, both of which should increase Simple Mills’ visibility and could raise funds. Further, I aspire to expand Simple Mills distribution to between 150 and 200 stores by year’s end.

What are your big upcoming milestones for 2014? Our goal is to expand Simple Mills’ distribution between 150-200 stores for 2014.

Note: plans change so fast – we’re now targeting 450 stores by year end. On June 1st, we’ll be in 180 – all of Wegman’s, all of Earth Fare, and all of New Seasons Markets. We’re also in the process of raising $1.5mm in the next two months or so and reshuffling the team.

What are your big upcoming milestones for 2015?  We ended up raising $2mm! We’re in approximately 600 stores now and are ranked #1 in natural baking mixes for dollars sold per store (per SPINS, which is natural industry scan data).  Next, we’re looking to expand the team, develop new product lines, and expand our distribution. By year end, we want to grow our distribution and revenues by 3x.