A Montreal startup provides a smoothie solution
It’s still early days for UGo, a fledgling Montreal company that has developed a self-cleaning smoothie machine, but co-founders Morgan Abraham and Mitch Schwartz have big dreams.
“Down the road, I see us as a wellness company, not just a smoothie company,” said Abraham, 29, a Boston native who studied engineering at McGill University and returned to Montreal post-graduation to give his business idea a shot.
After more than a year of research and development, they installed their first machine this month at Café Osmo on Sherbrooke Street. For now, they’re supplying the equipment for nothing, deriving their revenue from the sale of prepackaged cups of frozen fruit that the machine turns into smoothies.
Their plan — at least initially — is to provide the machines in exchange for a minimum monthly order of smoothie cups, which they wholesale for $3 apiece.
The advantage of their device is that it makes smoothie production, and post-smoothie cleaning, push-button, Abraham said. It doesn’t take up a lot of counter space or need a dedicated employee to operate or oversee it. Clients can do it themselves at the gyms, cafés or cafeterias where they see the product eventually being adopted.
“It’s a turnkey solution,” said Schwartz.
Local granola-company founder Andrea Courey, who is advising the duo as they set out on their entrepreneurial journey, said she’s impressed by their determination and spirit.
“I see a bit of myself in them, when I was in my 20s. Starting out, you question yourself about five times a day. You know it’s a long shot, but you go out and do it anyway. That’s something that should be celebrated, nurtured and supported. Because if you try hard enough, there’s no business idea you can’t make work.”
On the island of Montreal, there are an estimated 1,800 to 2,600 companies at the startup stage, contributing $380 million a year to the local economy, according to a government-funded report on the city’s “startup ecosystem” published this month. Montreal is an attractive and emerging destination for entrepreneurs for a number of reasons, among them its cultural diversity, quality of life, educational and research institutions and comparatively low operating costs.
Abraham said he “really liked Montreal culture” when he was a student here and had no qualms about returning after a couple of years back in the U.S. “It’s the right fit for me.”
The initial idea that became UGo was a vending machine for trail mix, developed by a team on which Abraham was a member. It won a startup competition in Boston three years ago.
But Abraham said trail mix “wasn’t the right product. It doesn’t go bad, and it’s not the most popular product out there.”
Smoothies, on the other hand, combined health credentials and growing demand.
He shared his idea for a smoothie machine with Schwartz, 30, to whom he’d been referred by an engineer acquaintance. “I happened to be on a smoothies regimen at the time,” said Schwartz, who had studied mechanical engineering.
They agreed to collaborate, initially via Skype. A U.S. partner provided contacts, mentorship and some of the initial funding to get the project rolling, but wanted Abraham and Schwartz to work on it full time. So both quit their jobs, and Abraham moved back to Montreal from New York City. They set up shop in a St-Henri building with modest rent that also gives entrepreneurs access to specialized machinery for a small monthly fee.
Two years into the partnership, they’re delivering their first orders of frozen fruit for their one operating machine. “We’re vegan, all-natural, gluten-free, dairy-free. The smoothies are made with coconut water,” said Abraham.
The second machine is due to go into a cross-fit gym this week, and they’re working now on mobile applications that will eventually simplify and speed up ordering and payment.
“By the end of 2017,” said Abraham, “I’d like to have 100 machines in service, and be in at least one more city.”