Student Profiles

LaunchPad Founder Lands Half a Million Dollar Deal on Shark Tank

Blackstone LaunchPad student founder Jared Cannon (MS’16 Temple University) went swimming with the sharks last week — and left the waters with half a million dollars. After a dramatic twist on ABC’s show Shark Tank, Jared leveraged Kevin O’Leary’s initial offer to land a $500,000 deal with both Mark Cuban and Lori Griener.  He’s the second LaunchPad student to make it onto Shark Tank this season, following Josh Aviv’s million dollar deal on the show last October for his company SparkCharge.

Jared received an investment for his company Simply Good Jars, which sells pre-made salads in reusable jars. After mixing the salad in the jar, and using the jar as a bowl, customers are invited to scan a QR code and pledge to reuse or recycle it. Simply Good Jars donates a meal for every pledge received.

The idea for his company came to Jared after years working in the food industry where he saw first hand the enormous levels of food waste occurring in restaurants while 35 million Americans (including 5.3 million children) live in food-insecure households, lacking sufficient access to affordable, nutritious foods. At the same time, he discovered that the U.S. is one of the largest contributors to the global waste problem: though the U.S. represents only 4% of the world population, it still produces 12% of municipal solid waste around the world but only recycles 35% of municipal waste, about half the rate of Germany.

With help from the Blackstone LaunchPad, Jared founded Simply Good Jars in 2017 with the goal of making healthy food more accessible and less wasteful. After an initial subscription based launch, Jared pivoted to operate a vending-machine model, purchasing 26 RFID-enabled smart refrigerators for busy places with limited food access, like airports, hotels, office buildings, and convention centers. 

“Early on I met with Julie Stapleton Carroll, the Program Director of LaunchPad, brought her a jar, and pitched my idea to her,” said Jared. “She immediately connected me to the center’s Entrepreneur in Residence, Lou Bucelli, who raised some important challenges about the margins and operational issues of the vending machine distribution.”

In addition to LaunchPad mentoring and networking events, Julie also encouraged Jared to apply for a Kiva loan, which he received, and to participate in a LaunchPad company showcase on campus—where he was introduced to a Wells Fargo banker who helped Jared try to navigate credit and debt financing. Soon after, Jared was selected as one of only eight companies to participate in the New York City Food-X Accelerator. This program helped Simply Good Jars attract interest from several leading global Angel and VC investment groups.

“Jared is a consummate example of a student founder who took advantage of all the Blackstone LaunchPad has to offer,” Julie said. “He met with us regularly, acted on our advice, reached out to our connections, and attended our networking opportunities. Now that he’s established, he has come full circle and is a mentor for our ventures, a speaker at our events, and our go-to vendor for tasty meals at meetings.”

In the first two years of operating alone, Jared estimates that he fed 14,000 people and saved 6 tons of packaging. Things were going well — until the spring of 2020. When COVID-19 hit and airports, hotels, office buildings, and conventions centers became ghost towns, Simply Good Jars lost 98% of traffic over night.

Jared quickly pivoted again to retail, recognizing that salad bars at grocery stores were a thing of the past. Between Easter and Memorial Day of last year, he grew his company from four locations to 230 doors, Walgreens in Chicago, and a national contract with Cloud Kitchen. Now, with $500,000 and the support of both Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner, Jared is ready to take his company to the next level.

For other students considering starting their own businesses, Jared offers three main pieces of advice:

1. Share your idea with as many people as possible early on.

Listen intently and openly to feedback and be willing to evolve your product or service based on that newly gained information. (The Techstars Entrepreneur’s Toolkit Understand Your Customer module offers a wealth of insight and advice for gathering critical input from customers.)

2. Work with mentors and coaches to find the right environment to develop your product.

Coworking spaces might be right if you’re selling something B2B, hackathons might help meet talent if your idea is app-based, or a prototyping shop could be critical for developing a physical product.

3. Leverage all the networks and opportunities available to you while in school.

Look at opportunities including research labs, student grant dollars, advice from law school clinics, campus pitch competitions, or student internship networks for finding talent. Look to your LaunchPad Campus Director for help tracking these resources and making connections.